At the Assembly Transportation Meeting on February 26th, the public was allowed four minutes to comment about the status of the High-Speed Rail Project. By the way, not each person but all of them. Luckily there were only 5 people to share the four minutes.
But the Assembly Transportation chair, Assembly member Bonnie Lowenthal, sent notices about the high-speed rail meeting update meeting in advance saying it would only last one hour. During the meeting, Lowenthal reminded the Committee more than once that while it was their job to provide oversight for the High-Speed Rail project, they didn’t want to rehash issues and were looking forward since the legislature had voted to fund the project.
New Assembly member Jim Patterson from Fresno had many questions of High-Speed Rail Authority’s CEO, Jeff Morales. He asked, what the contingency plan was if Congress didn’t grant more money for the project. Morales replied that they never move forward without having all the money for a segment and it has to have independent utility.
Comment: The Initial Construction Section is not the full segment required in AB 3034-only the Initial Operating Segment South is the complete useable segment and the Authority is approximately $25 billion short.
Independent Utility is not a requirement of the state, it is a federal requirement. The state requirement is that a high-speed rail system be built and what is proposed to be built is only tracks. The federal government’s requirement for the use of grant funds is if needed, the Amtrak service can shift over and use the tracks that are being built in the Central Valley. This supposed to cut 45 minutes off the current time of their service. A huge investment for something very controversial since it may cut current service such as in Hanford and the ticket price will increase greatly.
When Patterson questioned CEO Morales about where all the private investment was, Jeff Morales said he would send a list of 100 private entities who expressed interest but nothing was nailed down yet.
Assembly member Joan Buchanan quizzed Morales on the question, “Why we are spending a billion dollars on the bookends?” (note links are problematic temporarily on this site, you may have to cut and paste the 6 minute Youtube link)
She talked about the use of connectivity funds which has separate funds allocated in Prop 1A and seemed concerned that the state would use high-speed rail funds for commuter rail that would not be high-speed rail. She thought the Caltrain electrification was a good project but thought it would not operate at high-speed. She thought it would be less than half of 220. Morales said it was never planned to go down the peninsula at high-speeds, it will run about 110. Buchanan said she would be amazed if it hit 110 since Bart goes about 70 mph.
Note: High-Speed Trains were set to go down the peninsula at 125 mph. Caltrain is only set at 79 mph in their electrification Environmental Impact Report and while they are being funded as an early high-speed rail project, Caltrain wants to handle electrification as a separate topic and will not discuss high-speed rail other than perhaps in the cumulative impacts portion in the environmental report.
Morales tried to differentiate between connectivity funding and high-speed rail funding. He said connectivity funding is specifically designated to agencies by a formula and those transit systems feed into high-speed rail. Morales explains that it is different with Caltrain since electrification is a stage one, first part of the high-speed rail network in the peninsula and high-speed trains will eventually operate on the same infrastructure.
What he did not say was that Caltrain was also allocated connectivity funds of approximately $42 million dollars so they use both types of funding.
Ms. Buchanan asks Morales “Are you worried at all that you are going to have a challenge that you are spending on high-speed rail on the connection between San Francisco and High-Speed rail and not actually on high-speed rail. I don’t know how we look at that as high-speed rail. I look at that as connectivity. “
She said she is questioning the limitation in Prop 1A and what it said the money was for. Obviously Morales did not satisfy her questions on that subject.
Buchanan also asked about the 2 hours and forty minute requirement in Prop 1A and if it was achievable. Morales said the requirement in the law says that the system will be “designed to achieve” those travel times. Morales added that “the chief engineer has looked at that question and signed off that yes we can meet those requirements.” See the initial reaction to that Authority generated memo created because of a public records request.http://www.examiner.com/article/the-little-train-that-could-truth-or-fiction
Again notice the words, “designed to achieve.” It does not mean in real life the train will go that fast, it means the train will be capable of going that fast….someday…maybe.
The chair closed the committee’s comments and said there were just a few minutes for public comments since she had the room for just an hour. There was 4 minutes left to be exact for people to speak.
Eric Christen for the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction asked for another minute considering this is a $68 billion dollar project. But the chair, Bonnie Lowenthal, was firm and would not give a moment more 38 minutes later, after the Assembly meeting was over, no one had entered the room for another meeting.
Here is the full one hour hearing: http://calchannel.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=7&clip_id=949 Assymbly member Buchanan starts approximately at the 30 mm.