Boondoggle, thy name is high speed rail

The drooling lunacy of high speed rail "planning" goes on. Would it be possible to find anywhere along even the allegedly rural route of the San Joaquin Valley, where more disruption and possibly more heavy equipment could be employed than in changing the vast underpass of Highwy 99 through the center of one of the valley's moe substantial burgs, Fresno (population 943,000)?
One of America's favorite old expressions, culled from bitter experience with the 19th century barony of finance, insurance and real estate, is, "This is no way to build a railroad."
This project is stupid, destructive, and driven by the greed of people in the county seats of the San Joaquin Valley half the size of Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt. Once, when America had a much lower percentage of college graduates and was a much better educated country, Lewis could create a national character of ridicule, the greedy small town businessman and chamber of commerce type, always boosting, always hustling, always the dupe leading his town to destruction. George Babbitt was the Dupe of Main Street.
As our nation became illiterate and lost its memory, the Babbitts sprang up again in every city hall and county building and state legislature across the land and in Congress. In the great game of oligopoly finance capitalism going on today, the neo-Babblitt is the local leader who lies to his constituents for his little crumb under the table.
That's the kind of leadership that has produced the high speed rail planning process. And the process of getting the quotes right from these crumb bums in office has so stupefied the daily mudia that it cannot even grasp anymore how comically idiotic this boondoggle really is.
Badlands Journal editorial board

Merced Sun-Star
entral Valley

Monday, Aug. 06, 2012
High-speed rail-related work in Fresno is delayed
Moving of Highway 99might be 2 years away

SACRAMENTO -- Work to shift part of Highway 99 through central Fresno to make way for high-speed train tracks may not begin until at least early 2014.

That's the official expectation after the California High-Speed Rail Authority voted last week to approve an agreement with the California Department of Transportation for moving the 2.5-mile stretch of the highway.

The agreement, worth up to $226 million, calls for Caltrans to work as a contractor for the rail authority. The state highway agency will be responsible for design and construction to nudge the highway over by about 100 feet to accommodate new high-speed-train tracks between the highway and the adjacent Union Pacific Railroad freight tracks.

But motorists should not expect that work to snarl traffic on that portion of Highway 99 anytime soon, authority chief executive Jeff Morales said.

"Construction on the actual relocation of 99 is probably at least 18 months to 24 months off," Morales said Thursday. "What will be happening in the next few months is some of the preliminary work -- the design work, the right of way, dealing with the businesses along the route."

Caltrans will be responsible for designing the project, which will displace a string of businesses that sit along the west side of the highway. A frontage road and three offramps will also be affected.

Co-vice chairman Tom Richards, a Fresno developer, excused himself from the discussion and vote out of what he called "an abundance of caution" to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest. Caltrans is a tenant in one of his company's buildings.

Lynn Schenk, a board member from San Diego and a former secretary of the state's Business, Transportation and Housing Agency that includes Caltrans, expressed some concern with the agreement.

"I'm very excited because this is the first time we're going to shovel dirt," she said. "But I've seen these movies before, and sometimes the endings aren't so great."

Schenk said her concern is the amount of money involved in the construction. "There are lots of opportunities for everything from mismanagement to theft. We need to keep an eagle eye on that."

Morales, a former head of Caltrans, said he is mindful of the concern and said he will work directly with Caltrans "to make sure these funds are spent appropriately."

Work on the first stretches of the 520-mile statewide system still is planned to start in the Fresno area in early 2013.

The Highway 99 relocation is only part of that first construction segment. The authority is awaiting bids from up to five teams of contractors for a stretch that spans from southwest of Madera to the south end of Fresno. The agency anticipates that first construction segment to cost $1.5 billion to $2 billion and hopes to award a contract this year.

The bids were initially anticipated in September, but Morales said the authority may give contractors more time for their proposals.

He said he does not expect the 1½- to two-year wait on the Highway 99 relocation, or pushing back the bidding date for contractors, to endanger the agency's ability to complete the Madera-to-Bakersfield sections by September 2017 -- the deadline for spending about $3.5 billion in federal stimulus funds awarded to the authority by the Obama administration.

"That's still the deadline, and we think we can meet it," Morales said. "What we're hearing from the contractors is that they believe they can meet that schedule."

Later this month, the authority will be holding industry forums to gauge the interest of potential prime contractors and small-business subcontractors on future portions of the Madera-to-Bakersfield route.

"There will be different pieces going at different times," Morales said. "It all has to tie together, and in the time frame to get it done on time."

He added that construction on different portions of the route will be happening at the same time up and down the Valley instead of only one section at a time.

The Highway 99 work is included in the Merced-to-Fresno section, for which environmental reports were certified in May. But a handful of Kings County residents made the trip to Sacramento on Thursday to complain about the release of a revised draft environmental report for the Fresno-to-Bakersfield section.

The report was originally issued a year ago but was recalled in the fall so revisions could be made. The revised report was reissued in mid-July, and the public has until Sept. 20 to submit comments on the document and its technical attachments -- more than 30,000 pages in all.

Frank Oliveira, a Hanford farmer, and others who spoke during a public comment period said the 60 days allowed for the public to review and comment on the new Fresno-to-Bakersfield report is not enough.

"Sixty days is unreasonable if you really want public participation," Oliveira said. "We request 180 days, or 120 days if the state would make the documents more readily available to the public."

Oliveira said a person would have to read hundreds of pages a day, seven days a week, to slog through the mass of documents. But, he added, there are only 10 locations in Kings County, including public libraries, where the report is available to read. None is open on weekends, he said, and most are open during regular business hours, limiting the opportunities for review.

Public hearings on the revised environmental report are scheduled for late August in Bakersfield, Hanford and Fresno.