A few days before this month's election, the federal government announced that California would receive an additional $715 million for its high-speed rail project, contingent on the money being spent quickly on a segment in the San Joaquin Valley.
Why? You'd have to be terminally naive not to believe that the splashy announcement, made personally by an Obama administration official in Fresno, was to help an embattled local congressman, Democrat Jim Costa, stave off a very stiff Republican challenge.
Costa, a longtime bullet train advocate, did, in fact, eke out a narrow re-election win. And last week, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) announced plans to spend that money and some other federal and state funds, $4.3 billion in all, to build a 54-mile segment from Madera to Corcoran.
It was instructive on two fronts. It illustrated the pork barrel aspects of the scheme, with financing, routes and station sites dependent more on political pull than objective criteria. It also underscored the eagerness of bullet train boosters to turn dirt, thereby creating a moral commitment to complete the project despite its deficiencies.
So let's get this straight:
The HSRA's ridership and revenue estimates have been widely panned, including a blistering critique by the University of California's Institute for Transportation Studies, for their pie-in-the-sky unreality.
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