Not Exactly a Bullet

Via Kevin Drum, I noticed an L.A. Times update on the latest delay in the construction schedule for the California “bullet train” project, supposedly kick-started by the award of federal stimulus funds back in 2010, and which remains a priority for Gov. Jerry Brown:

In early 2012, state officials said construction would begin that year. Early this year, officials adjusted their sights, saying they would begin building the massive new transportation network in the spring, later announcing the groundbreaking would take place in July.

Now, it appears that serious construction may not begin this year, and could be delayed into 2014.

Factors contributing to the sluggish start include delays in getting a construction company under contract and lack of key federal permits.

If you read the whole article, you can see how complicated the construction company selection and permitting obstacles actually are, and then there’s the land acquisition problem, and the likelihood of rising costs if the economy continues to rebound, and oh yeah: the fact that from farmers in the Central Valley to environmentalists on the Coast to those promoting rival fiscal priorities everywhere, opposition to the train or to the proposed routes makes this a toxic political issue. And as Kevin points out, the current drama is over a single 29-mile segment running north of Fresno to Madera.

Some local chamber of commerce types think the train could represent the economic salvation of the deeply troubled San Joaquin Valley, and others imagine housing costs could be brought down in Los Angeles and the Bay by making Bakersfield and Gilroy (respectively) commuter towns, which would be quite the cultural transformation. But although I would never underestimate Jerry Brown, it’s hard to imagine this Spruce Goose of an infrastructure project ever taking full flight.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.