HSR: Central Valley Route, AB 3034 ViolationsBy Kathy Hamilton
As expected, December 3rd, the High Speed Rail Authority voted to begin the HSR project on the hybrid selection, labeled option 1, between Borden and Corcoran using federal and state matching funds amounting to $4.33 billion dollars.
It straddles two sections, Fresno to Bakersfield-labeled option 2 and Fresno to Merced was option 3. The selection certainly represents low ridership cities. Corcoran is known for one thing, the prison that holds Charles Manson and neither he nor the rest of the inmates will be riding the rail system anytime soon.
But there are clear problems with the selection especially as it pertains to the California State law Assembly Bill 3034. The board did not vote on a "corridor or usable segment thereof" as defined in the law, they had a new definition.
According to State Attorney George Spanos, who was not asked to determine the legality of the staff recommendation prior to the board meeting, he admitted "the segment being offered was not a usable segment within the meaning of Prop 1A." He suggested it was a" subset of a usable segment", which would later be defined when the Authority went to the legislature for funding.
During the meeting Rod Diridon said, " Let me stress then in the motion which I am going to offer that I'm using the words "starter construction project and not anything else." So you can use those words then into building the first usable segment as you would like to with the staff when we communicate with the legislature. This is a starter construction project. This does not relate to usable section, operable section."
Spanos adds, " It's a subset of what will eventually be a usable section."
Diridon: Yes, this is just where starting construction, it doesn't relate to those legal words in the law relating to operable segments."
But the fact is AB3034 does not allow for a smaller segment to be built, no mention of a sub-section, starter construction project or the beginning of construction. It says, "Construction of the corridor or usable segment thereof."
Another area of state law which appears to be a violation is the section that says "the corridor or usable segment thereof would be suitable and ready for High Speed Train operation."
According to Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD), the High Speed Rail legislation includes serious safeguards to make sure state money only pays for tracks that lead to self-supporting high Speed Rail service." To actually run the trains, you need electrification, high speed rail system elements and a maintenance facility, none of which are included in the current proposal. The Authority's stance is that they just need to have a vision for where the additional money to pay for these items will come from, akin to the current funding plans in the business plan."
AB 3034 is crystal clear on funding and revenue.
(C) The estimated full cost of constructing the corridor or usable segment thereof, including an estimate of cost escalation during construction and appropriate reserves for contingencies.
(E) The projected ridership and operating revenue estimate based on projected high-speed passenger train operations on the corridor or usable segment.
The reference to ridership and revenue is an indication when the bill was written the lawmakers thought each segment would be able to be up and running after each one was constructed. This is not so because of the need of Positive Train Control to link all segments together in order to operate.
And as far as the parameters of the ARRA funds, the Feds definition of Independent utility" is, " if, upon implementation, it will provide tangible and measurable benefits, even if no additional investments in the same service are made." It is not so clear this selection will make the cut here either.
The price tag of 4.14 billion is also up almost $1 billion from August, without any explanation.
In the end, board voted and unanimously accepted the staff recommendation despite reservations expressed from board members Crane, Schenk and Florez. This selection is highly questionable as it pertains to California state law and very well may fail Federal tests for independent utility.
And just Monday, the Peer Review Board released a document that contained a litany of the same concerns as the Legislative Analyst's office (LAO) the Inspector General, the California State Auditor. All the same concerns about funding, ridership, risk management and completion of the system without operating subsidy. The peer review committee also expressed both present and long term infrastructure concerns.
Copyright ©2010 San Francisco Examiner. Published 12/07/2010.