Stop the California bullet train in its tracks

The latest $2.8 billion cost overrun is yet another reminder that the California Legislature should apply the brakes to Gov. Jerry Brown’s legacy-seeking bullet train fiasco.

If the California High-Speed Rail Authority could deliver the $45 billion Sacramento-to-San Diego system that voters were promised in Proposition 1A nearly a decade ago, it would be a different story. But it’s not even close. And the numbers keep getting worse as the authority continues throwing good money after bad.

ADVERTISING

At the very least, the Legislature should seek an immediate independent review by the state auditor, as Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, and Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, requested last week.

This should be a no-brainer. Even the governor’s biggest bullet train promoter, rail authority Chairman Dan Richard, said he and Brown are on board with an audit. It’s long overdue.

During his State of the State address Thursday, the governor likely will again urge fiscal restraint. It’s wise advice that should be applied to high-speed rail as well as state services.

California faces huge financial uncertainty with shifting federal tax and health care laws, tens of billions in pension debt and the likelihood of a long-overdue recession. California already is shorting teacher salaries, public universities and the state’s crumbling roads and other infrastructure.

It makes no sense to continue wasting billions on a high-speed rail system that will probably never be completed and certainly will never live up to its billing.

Voters in 2008 were promised a system stretching from San Diego to Sacramento that would cost $45 billion. Now the plans are for linking Los Angeles and San Francisco at a price of $64 billion, estimated in 2016. That tab will likely increase when the rail authority releases new numbers in March.

Voters also were told private money would cover much of the construction cost, but none has come so far. And about a third of the funding would come from the federal government, which now seems unlikely with the end of the rail-friendly Obama administration.

Now, the entire financing strategy presumes that this federal and private money will pour in after the authority builds an operating segment.

So, after receiving voter approval for $9 billion of state bonds to use toward a system running most of the length of the state, the authority plans to blow all that money and more on a segment from near Bakersfield to San Jose.

But, according to a Los Angeles Times report, the first portion of that segment, from near Bakersfield to Madera, is way over budget. It originally was estimated at $6 billion, but is now forecast to come in at $10.6 billion.

That was supposed to be the easy segment to build. Imagine what happens when construction involves boring through mountains or entering urban areas with other railroads and highway systems converging. Private investors will be hiding their wallets.

ADVERTISING

It’s been said before and said again: It’s time to stop this train in its tracks.

— The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)