Author Archives: California High Speed Rail Accountability Team

Theme for California High-Speed Rail in Summer 2021: More Spending!!

For Brightline West, Another Delay – RailWay Age – June 23, 2021

Brightline West, a high speed passenger rail service connecting Southern California and Las Vegas…Last year, parent company Fortress Investment Group had been marketing $2.4 billion of debt to be issued through California and Nevada agencies, but failed to sell the bonds to support its $8.4 billion project. The Brightline West website had pegged year-end 2020 as a potential start date for building the 135-mile California line and 34-mile Nevada line…Brightline has now told Railway Age that the bond request will move to 2022.

Virtual Pre-Bid Conference for Request for Qualifications for Design Services for Historic Fresno Station Seismic and Accessibility Renovations – California High-Speed Rail Authority Press Release – June 17, 2021

The California High-Speed Rail Authority is issuing this Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to receive Statements of Qualifications from qualified firms (Offerors) for Design Services for Historic Fresno Station Seismic and Accessibility Renovations. The purpose of this RFQ is to award an agreement to one successful Offeror to provide the architectural and engineering design services to make all required seismic and accessibility improvements to existing historic structures at the Fresno Southern Pacific Railroad Depot, located at 1713 Tulare Street in Fresno.

California High-Speed Rail’s Latest Threat: L.A. Wants to Spend Money Locally – June 17, 2021 – San Francisco Chronicle

Gov. Gavin Newsom seeks to use $4.2 billion in voter-approved bonds to finish building an initial 171-mile stretch from Merced to Bakersfield…the funding ask has given skeptical legislators new leverage to air their frustrations about the rail project and the attention paid to the Central Valley versus more densely populated urban centers. Assembly members from Southern California have pushed to divert money into local rail projects…But the project has faced ridicule over repeated construction delays and soaring construction costs, with its budget growing from $33 billion to about $83 billion. Trains were initially supposed to start running last year. Now, the Rail Authority doesn’t anticipate the Central Valley segment will start operating until 2029, followed by the longer line in 2033.

California’s Bullet Train Doesn’t Deserve a Cent of Federal Funding – Orange County Register and other California newspapers (editorial) – June 14, 2021

If the United States is ever going to have an extensive high-speed rail system, the nation must learn from California’s missteps and more closely follow the approach taken in Florida when it comes to getting a high-speed rail project done. That’s basically the message of California Treasurer Fiona Ma in a bluntly written recent letter to Congress.

California and Federal Government Reach Agreement – Nearly $1 Billion in Funding Returned to the High-Speed Rail Project – California High-Speed Rail Authority Press Release – June 11, 2021

Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the State of California finalized settlement negotiations to restore nearly a billion dollars in federal grant funding to California’s High-Speed Rail project. The action comes after months of negotiations to restore funding that was previously rescinded by the Trump Administration in 2019.

Legislators Must Keep High-Speed Rail on Track – Hanford Sentinel (opinion/commentary by Rick Harnish, executive director of the national High Speed Rail Alliance) – June 9, 2021

Although I work in Chicago, I have spent the last few months laser-focused on California, communicating with dozens of assemblymembers and senators from all over the state…I helped found the national nonprofit High Speed Rail Alliance because of my belief in high-speed rail for all of America. California is home to the closest thing the country has to a finished segment of high-speed line.

Ma Warns Congress on High-Speed Rail: “Failure Remains a Real Possibility” – San Joaquin Valley Sun – June 7, 2021

…one high-ranking California official has a word of warning when it comes to the most ambitious of proposals: high-speed rail. California State Treasurer Fiona Ma warned leaders of the House and Senate Transportation committees to not engage in repeat efforts undertaken by the Obama administration and eschew bulky government-dominated operations such as the Golden State’s sputtering high-speed rail project.

California State Treasurer Fiona Ma – Letter to United States Congress – Politico (posted the letter) – June 7, 2021

I fear failure remains a real possibility. Scores of billions may seem like a lot of money, but we know from our experience in California that actual construction ends up costing multitudes more than estimates anticipate. And spreading funding thinly across dozens of states and congressional districts to secure votes is a recipe for incremental progress with no new operational trains on the horizon. Such was the case with the federal government’s last attempt to bolster HSR after allocating $10.5 billion in 2009-2010. The approximate ridership on new rail lines built with these funds? Zero.

Legislature Doesn’t Want to Release Voter-Approved Prop 1A Funds to High Speed Rail…Yet? – Streetsblog California – June 4, 2021

Ongoing, behind-the scenes negotiations between Governor Newsom, the Assembly, and the Senate on the 2021 budget continue this week in a push to meet the budget-signing deadline of June 30. The Assembly and the Senate want to deny a request from the California High-Speed Rail Authority – and from Governor Newsom – to release voter-approved Prop 1A funds. In the budget proposal they released this week – a counter proposal to Newsom’s May Revise – they recommend continuing to invest much more in roads and highways than towards more sustainable transportation like transit and active transportation.

Special Report: High-Speed Rail’s Bumpy Ride – KMPH (Fresno) – May 25, 2021

Kings County filed a number of lawsuits in the beginning, but finally settled them a decade later. “They didn’t identify all the issues before they built it, which is what we sued them for,” said Kings County Supervisor Doug Verboon. “Had they listened to us from the beginning they could have identified all the issues before construction. They probably would have come in under budget instead of being over budget.”

CCHSRA Submits Comments on Revised Draft 2020 California High-Speed Rail Business Plan

Dear California High-Speed Rail Authority Board Members:

First, we praise the Authority for including a checklist in the Business Plan (pages 146-149) of how the plan fulfills statutory requirements. Past Authority business plans failed to include content that complied with California law. Our organization would have sued the Authority in 2014 for failing to follow the law with its Business Plan for that year, except there was no obvious way to get meaningful and timely rectification of the omissions through the judicial branch. The California legislature should have declined to accept those old business plans and referred them back to the Authority for improvement with compliance.

Generally, the Authority’s 2020 Business Plan is much improved in content from earlier plans. We understand the challenges and frustrations of explaining a project that was sold to voters under false pretenses through Proposition 1A.

Inadequacies in the Report

We agree with the Peer Review Committee findings that the 2020 Business Plan neglected to report adequately on the challenges and controversies concerning the pivotal federal matching grants awarded for the first operating segment of this project (in the San Joaquin Valley). We suspect the litigation regarding that federal funding will soon become moot, as the Biden Administration is likely to withdraw the 2019 position of the Trump Administration that the Authority has not fulfilled the requirements of those grants. Regrettably, we believe the 2019 position of the Trump Administration was bluntly accurate.

We agree with the Peer Review Committee findings that the 2020 Business Plan neglects to outline how the Authority will obtain funding to continue construction on the “Initial Operating Segment” aka “Interim Operating Segment.” Below, we make a prediction about the likely solution to be implemented – a solution not mentioned in the Business Plan.

The Business Plan also neglects to report adequately on how the project has strayed from the “requirement” or “tenets” of Proposition 1A provisions. It does not list what California voters were told in the State of California Official Voting Guide when 53% of them voted in November 2008 to authorize the state to borrow $9.95 million via bond sales to investors to fund this project. Pages 120 and 121 address this deviance from Proposition 1A, but only in the context of describing the status of the litigation and not the substance of the litigation.

On page 93, the Authority claims it is fulfilling “what the voters intended when they approved Proposition 1A in 2008 to initiate the construction of a high-speed train system that connects San Francisco to Los Angeles and Anaheim and links the state’s major population centers.” What the voters intended – and what the Proposition 1A ballot measure listed – is now either decades away from happening, purely speculative, or impossible to fulfill using the planned technology. Ballot arguments against Proposition 1A were much more accurate. We suggest removing the claim that voter intent is being fulfilled.

On page 99, the Authority acknowledges but discounts public comments pointing out there is no true private investment in the system (as required in Proposition 1A). Actually, the summary of arguments against private investment at time are among the most credible points in the Business Plan: lack of certainty (or more accurately, confidence) in both the timing and level of returns from the investment, including uncertainty in project advancement, lack of a definition of project configuration, and credible cost estimates that reflect realities on the ground.

The Business Plan also neglects to report adequately on deviations from the contract for Construction Package 1 (CP-1) that the Authority awarded with great acclaim in 2013. Many cynical predictions made at the time of that contract award have come true.

The Business Plan neglects to address the history of federal and state audits and how the Authority has attempted (or not attempted) to respond to reasonable and thoughtful criticism within audit requests and audit findings.

Disproportionate Emphasis on Numbers of Construction Trade Jobs

It is noteworthy how many times the Business Plan highlights the number of construction trade workers (“labor jobs” for “skilled craft unions” aka “keeping men and women working to complete Central Valley construction”) on the project. Obviously this is the most easily measurable performance aspect of the project to date. It also appeals to an interest group that has been among the most dedicated supporters of the project at the state legislature.

While we appreciate employment opportunities in the San Joaquin Valley, we note that the voters who supported Proposition 1A generally saw this project as an attractive intercity high-speed travel option, and not so much as a government program to create jobs through public contracts. A comparative analysis of the cost per job and the resulting material benefits would likely show that California High-Speed Rail was not the best choice among many options to spur economic development and job creation in the San Joaquin Valley.

Long-Term Solutions

The 2020 Business Plan does not introduce what will likely be the political solution to the Authority’s challenges with funding and compliance: a statewide ballot measure that repeals many of the conditions in Proposition 1A and ensures a steady stream of tax revenue and bond proceeds through the completion of Phase 1.

At this point, CCHSRA assumes that if the Initial Operating Segment is completed several years from now, it will serve our communities as a dedicated Amtrak San Joaquin alignment with trains powered by diesel engines. This outcome could have been achieved in ways much less disruptive and destructive to our region.

Sincerely,

Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability

High-Speed Rail Failures Continue, With Your Money

California High-Speed Rail: The End of the Line (Literally)

Twelve years have passed since 53% of California voters authorized the state to borrow $9.95 billion from bond investors to start building a high-speed rail system.

And six years have passed since politicians and leaders of powerful construction and transportation interests gathered in Fresno to sign a rail and celebrate the start of actual construction.

So when can we buy tickets for high-speed transportation to San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Sacramento? No one knows. The program continues with minimal accountability or legitimate oversight. No contract has been awarded to lay any rail.

In 2020, the California High-Speed Rail Authority couldn’t even submit a final revised business plan to the state legislature, as required by law. Like so many other alleged taxpayer protections, that requirement was meaningless.

Yet a constant flurry of construction activity continues anyway between Madera and Shafter. Money is being spent – your money.

Far away from the coastal cities and the capital, San Joaquin Valley residents recognize that passenger train operations of any kind aren’t happening any time soon. It appears the California High-Speed Rail Authority is simply marking its territory with unsightly swatches of cleared land and destruction of family homes along the first segment of the rail alignment.

Viaducts over roads and rivers appear intermittently for 190 miles on flat farmland, but that’s far short of the promise to voters of a “Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train.”

When voters approved Proposition 1A in 2008, they were told trains would run between major cities (including Sacramento and San Diego) at 220 miles per hour. In addition, trains would travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2 hours, 40 minutes or less.

At the current rate of progress, a dedicated Amtrak rail line may operate between Merced and Wasco by 2030. If all goes well, trains will be pulled by diesel locomotives that can reach speeds of 125 miles per hour.

This outcome could have been achieved if the State of California had simply retrofitted the existing Amtrak line that already serves the San Joaquin Valley. It would have avoided environmental and community disruption and destruction, while costing billions of dollars less.

Considering the dismal outlook for California High-Speed Rail, it’s no surprise the State of California has failed to obtain private investment for it – another empty promise made to voters in 2008. Only the politicians are willing to spend money – someone else’s money – on this obviously unprofitable project destined never to cross or penetrate a mountain range.

On a few occasions, some federal and state officials have attempted to impose some accountability on the state’s high-speed rail program. Most notably, the Trump Administration sent a letter to the State of California in 2019 cancelling $929 million in federal grant money for California High-Speed Rail and demanding return of a $2.5 billion federal grant awarded ten years ago through President Obama’s economic stimulus package. That money came with reasonable guidelines and conditions that the state has proven incapable of achieving.

The state hasn’t returned the $2.5 billion, of course. And the Biden Administration will probably neglect this federal demand or withdraw it altogether. Even our own Governor Gavin Newsom, after seemingly recognizing the infeasibility of the project early in his administration, has failed to meaningfully respond during his term to continued failures of the high-speed rail program.

How can Californians expect anything better? A cynic would conclude that the real purpose of the California High-Speed Rail project is political. It gives elected officials a continual opportunity to reward construction-related companies and labor unions for their consistent campaign support. That’s why planning and construction goes on despite common sense and the resentment of many California residents.

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Please Comment, Fellow Californians: 2020 California High-Speed Rail Authority Draft Business Plan

Every two years, the California High-Speed Rail Authority is required by law (Proposition 1A, enacted by voters in 2008) to produce a Business Plan. And every two years the Authority comes out with a report.

The Business Plan serves primarily as a public relations promotional document for the high-speed rail project. However, grim reality is usually embedded deep within the report for the public to find.

The newly-released draft for 2020 is entitled California High-Speed Rail 2020 Business Plan: Delivering the Vision

Please read about the delivery of the “vision” and submit your comments by April 12 in one of five ways:

1. Submit a comment electronically through the California High-Speed Rail website at this link:
https://www.hsr.ca.gov/about/business_plans/business_plan_2020_comment_form.aspx

2. Email to DraftBP2020@hsr.ca.gov

3. U.S. mail to this address:

California High-Speed Rail Authority

Attn: Draft 2020 Business Plan

770 L Street, Suite 620 MS-1

Sacramento, CA 95814-3385

4. Voicemail Message: (916) 384-9516

5. In-Person Public Comment at One (or Both) Meetings of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors:

As you might guess, the delivery of this “vision” continues to become phenomenally more expensive than originally claimed. And it will become reality long after originally claimed – if it ever becomes reality.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority predicts in its 2020 Draft Business Plan that 40 million people will ride the train by 2040, generating $4.5 billion and covering the cost of operations.

We’ll make our own prediction. If the Trump Administration or a subsequent Presidential administration is unable to force the State of California to pay back its 2010 federal grants, the Authority might have track on the ground between Madera and Wasco in 2030.

This would allow the Amtrak San Joaquins passenger trains with 125-mph low-emissions diesel engines to run on dedicated track (thus avoiding conflicts with freight trains). There could also be regional commuter rail service operating between Fresno and smaller cities to the north and south, such as Madera and Selma.

High-speed rail at more than 200 mph between San Francisco and Los Angeles (or San Diego or Sacramento)? Absolutely no way.

SAFE (Save Angeles Forest for Everyone) Asks U.S. Attorney General for Federal Investigation of California High-Speed Rail

This June 14, 2019 letter from S.A.F.E. (Save Angeles Forest for Everyone) to U.S. Attorney General William Barr wraps up its arguments with this conclusion: “Simply put, a federal grand jury needs to be impaneled to unravel this ball of yarn.”

Save Angeles Forest for Everyone (SAFE) – Letter on California High-Speed Rail to U.S. Attorney General – June 14, 2019

Sources of Information on Termination of Federal Funding Agreement on California High-Speed Rail

The Federal Railroad Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation has posted on its website a compilation of documents related to its decision to terminate its funding agreement with the California High-Speed Rail Authority. You can find the list posted with any documents released on May 16, 2019 on the Federal Railroad Administration eLibrary. CCHSRA has also posted the list below.

The Federal Railroad Administration press release below summarizes the current situation:

After careful consideration, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has terminated Cooperative Agreement No. FR-HSR-0118-12-01-01 (the FY10 Agreement) with the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), and will deobligate the $928,620,000 in funding under that agreement.

The decision follows FRA’s Notice of Intent to Terminate and consideration of the information provided by CHSRA on March 4, 2019. FRA finds that CHSRA has repeatedly failed to comply with the terms of the FY10 Agreement and has failed to make reasonable progress on the Project.

Additionally, California has abandoned its original vision of a high-speed passenger rail service connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles, which was essential to its applications for FRA grant funding.

FRA continues to consider all options regarding the return of $2.5 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds awarded to CHSRA.

Links:

Press Release: Statement of Federal Railroad Administration on Termination of Fiscal Year 2010 Grant Agreement with California High-Speed Rail Authority

Termination Letter from Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to California High-Speed Rail Authority – May 16, 2019

Exhibit A: Fiscal Year 2010 Agreement, as amended

Exhibit B: Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Notice of Intent to Terminate Cooperative Agreement – February 19, 2019

Exhibit C: California High-Speed Rail Authority Letter to Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Ronald L. Batory – March 4, 2019

Exhibit D: California High-Speed Rail Authority Letter to Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Director of Program Delivery, Jamie Rennert – March 4, 2019

Exhibit E: Final California High-Speed Rail Authority 2019 Project Update Report

Exhibit F: California High-Speed Rail Authority Fiscal Year 2010 Application

Exhibit G: Funding Contribution Plan Correspondence

Exhibit H: Detailed Quarterly Budget Correspondence

Exhibit I: Project Management Plan Correspondence

Exhibit J: Annual Work Plan Correspondence

What’s the Fate of Your Property If California High-Speed Rail Is Terminated?

Political observers in California were stunned when the Trump Administration sent a letter dated February 19, 2019 to the CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority terminating the federal funding agreement and demanding a refund of federal funds already given to the state for the project.

See a copy of the termination letter at the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) website: U.S. Department of Transportation Announces Cancellation of Grant Funds to California High-Speed Rail Project. A press release states the following:

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced today that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) intends to cancel $929 million in Federal grant funds yet to be paid for the California High-Speed Rail project envisioned to connect the L.A. Basin to the San Francisco Bay Area.  In addition, the Department announced it is actively exploring every legal option to seek the return from California of $2.5 billion in Federal funds FRA previously granted for this now-defunct project.  FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory notified the California HSR Authority (CHSRA) of this action in a letter today.

It’s time for San Joaquin Valley property owners to start thinking about the future of their property. Here is a relevant law that was introduced by former Senator Andy Vidak:

Senate Bill 940, signed into law in 2016, requires the California High-Speed Rail Authority to send notification by certified mail to the last known owner of property (at his or her last known address) if it plans to sell it. The letter must inform the last known owner that it will be offering the property for sale. The Authority must wait at least 30 days after mailing the notification before it sells the property. The language is found in California Public Utilities Code Section 185040.

This article shall not be construed as legal advice.

What Did Governor Gavin Newsom Actually Say About California High-Speed Rail?

There are many interpretations of what new California Governor Gavin Newsom said about California High-Speed Rail during his State of the State address on February 12, 2019, including his own interpretation on Twitter.

Capitol Public Radio prepared a video and transcript of the speech. Here’s the excerpt about California High-Speed Rail:

Next, let’s level about high speed rail.  I have nothing but respect for Governor Brown’s and Governor Schwarzenegger’s ambitious vision. I share it. And there’s no doubt that our state’s economy and quality of life depend on improving transportation.



But let’s be real. The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.



Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A. I wish there were.



However, we do have the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield.



I know that some critics will say this is a “train to nowhere.”  But that’s wrong and offensive. The people of the Central Valley endure the worst air pollution in America as well as some of the longest commutes. And they have suffered too many years of neglect from policymakers here in Sacramento. They deserve better.



High Speed Rail is much more than a train project.  It’s about economic transformation and unlocking the enormous potential of the Valley.

We can align our economic and workforce development strategies, anchored by High Speed Rail, and pair them with tools like opportunity zones, to form the backbone of a reinvigorated Central Valley economy.



Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield, and communities in between are more dynamic than many realize.



The Valley may be known around the world for agriculture, but there is another story ready to be told. A story of a region hungry for investment, a workforce eager for more training and good jobs, Californians who deserve a fair share of our state’s prosperity.



Look, we will continue our regional projects north and south. We’ll finish Phase 1 environmental work. We’ll connect the revitalized Central Valley to other parts of the state, and continue to push for more federal funding and private dollars. But let’s just get something done.



For those who want to walk away from this whole endeavor, I offer you this: Abandoning high speed rail entirely means we will have wasted billions of dollars with nothing but broken promises and lawsuits to show for it.



And by the way, I am not interested in sending $3.5 billion in federal funding that was allocated to this project back to Donald Trump. Nor am I interested in repeating the same old mistakes.



Today I am ordering new transparency measures. We’re going to hold contractors and consultants accountable to explain how taxpayer dollars are spent – including change orders, cost overruns, even travel expenses. It’s going online, for everybody to see.



You’re also going to see some governance changes, starting with my pick for the next chair of the High Speed Rail Authority, Lenny Mendonca, my Economic Development Director. Because, at the end of the day, transportation and economic development must go hand in hand.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, 2019 State of the State Address

Efficient High-Speed Rail Travel Between Gilroy and Palmdale: Is It Worth $100 Billion?

Financial analyst William Grindley presented his latest study to the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) board at its January 15, 2019 meeting. On behalf of the people of California and the United States, he argues yet again that this project – the costliest infrastructure project in human history – is a waste of money and needs to be terminated, immediately.

The new study is If You Build It, They Will Not Come – The Sequel – The Findings and Consequences of Competitive Analyses of HSR Versus Auto and Air Travel – 2029-2040. It debunks the claims of the California High-Speed Rail Authority about future ridership – and future revenue.

Mr. Grindley (with coauthor William Warren) makes a reasonable assumption that the Authority chooses to ignore: Californians (even California state legislators) will continue to drive or fly between California cities, rather than taking high-speed rail, if driving or flying takes less time and costs less, which it does on the vast majority of high-speed rail routes.

Using CHSRA data and mathematical formulas, Grindley and Warren analyzed three-fourths of all travel routes possible on the future rail system for the first operational segment (140 routes) and possible for Phase 1 (an additional 180 routes). Their calculations show that only one of those high-speed rail routes would have total travel time and total travel cost that are less than flying or driving: the route between Gilroy and Palmdale. Based on these results, Mr. Grindley concludes that the Authority’s estimates for ridership are five times higher than what would be expected if people make rational transportation decisions based on the time and cost of travel.

They also consider the claims of Silicon Valley high-speed rail promoters that people will use the bullet train to commute between homes in the Central Valley and workplaces in Silicon Valley. Mr. Grindley calculates travel times and concludes the proposed high-speed rail link is absurd and connecting the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) train with high-speed rail at Merced is even more absurd.

What we’ll get for $100 billion are higher fares, longer travel times, and government subsidies a few riders for a poorly thought out travel mode.

Source Documents

The New Report by Grindley and Warren: If You Build It, They Will Not Come – The Sequel – The Findings and Consequences of Competitive Analyses of HSR Versus Auto and Air Travel – 2029-2040

Slideshow for California High-Speed Rail Authority – January 15, 2019

Public Comment at January 15, 2019 California High-Speed Rail Authority Board Meeting

Press Release/Summary

Detailed Analysis of Silicon Valley – Central Valley California High-Speed Rail Routes Routes

Detailed Analysis of San Francisco – Los Angeles (Phase 1) California High-Speed Rail Routes

All Documents and Referenced Materials Used in Grindley and Warren Report

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Previous Reports by Grindley and Warren on Aspects of the California High Speed Rail’s Finances

Previous Financial Reports about California High-Speed Rail by Grindley and Warren

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California High-Speed Rail Authority Continues Strategies to Circumvent and Evade Substantive Environmental Review

It’s ironic that a California state agency that claims to be saving the world from climate change and environmental harm continues to pursue strategies to circumvent and evade substantive environmental review of its proposed alignment through the San Joaquin Valley. But the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CaHSRA) has consistently done this as it tries to avoid the costs, delays, and inconveniences other developers endure during the environmental review process.

We feel what is good for the goose should be good for the gander.

CaHSRA has managed to get primary environmental review of high-speed rail alignments to fall under the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and not the more stringent California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Now it wants to take authority from the federal government for environmental review decisions.

On May 2, 2018, the Federal Railroad Administration (an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation) invited public comment on an application from the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) and California High-Speed Rail Authority (CaHSRA) to participate in the “Surface Transportation Project Delivery Program.” This program would allow the California High-Speed Rail Authority to be responsible for environmental review as the lead agency, rather than the Federal Railroad Administration.

Several regional transportation agencies submitted comments in support of the application. For example, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Agency (Metro) noted it would allow “acceleration of the environmental review process” for “a framework for projects to become ‘shovel-ready’ sooner through the more streamlined completion of environmental clearances.”

Big business and industry groups such as the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, and the US High Speed Rail Association also chimed in with support. Union umbrella groups such as the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO and the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California, AFL-CIO also support the shift of authority.

On August 16, 2018, the board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority authorized the CEO of the agency to have certain powers regarding environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act. As noted in a staff report, the agency plans soon to release  the  Central  Valley  Wye  Draft  Supplemental Environmental  Impact (related to the high-speed rail assignment near Merced) and the Fresno-Bakersfield  Locally Generated  Alternative  Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (related to the high-speed rail alignment into the City of Bakersfield).

The goal is to clear the path through the fields of the San Joaquin Valley and the urban cores of Fresno, Hanford, and Bakersfield as soon as possible, without the inconveniences that other developers endure during the environmental review process for proposed projects.

Sources

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) – Applications: California; Participation in Surface Transportation Project Delivery Program for Certain Railroad Projects

California High-Speed Rail Authority Board Meeting – August 16, 2018 – Agenda Item #3 – Consider Revising Delegation of Authority for NEPA Assignment

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