President Joe Biden’s administration announced last week that it had restored a $929 million grant for a high-speed rail project in California that has been marred by environmental lawsuits, delays, and cost overruns.
The money restored by the Biden administration was canceled by his predecessor, President Donald Trump, who pointed out that the project was a “disaster” due to the delays and ballooning costs. In an editorial, the Las Vegas Review-Journal compared the high-speed rail project to Boston’s Big Dig, a notoriously expensive boondoggle that took 25 years to complete at a cost of $22 billion, when it was originally proposed to taxpayers as taking 15 years to complete and costing just $2.8 billion in 1982.
California, the editorial board wrote, appears to be attempting to out-do Boston’s boondoggle.
“In the early aughts, the state’s political class bamboozled voters into approving a high-speed rail project intended to ultimately connect Los Angeles with San Francisco. Construction was supposed to be completed early this decade, and residents were assured that the shiny new ‘clean energy’ train could be theirs for the low, low price of $30 billion,” the editorial board wrote. “Instead, the project is more than a decade behind schedule and is now projected to cost $100 billion … and counting. Officials now hope they can complete a 171-mile stretch between Bakersfield and Merced by the end of the decade.”
The editorial board pointed out that Trump’s Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao, called the high-speed rail project a “bait-and-switch” for taxpayers, as initial cost estimates, according to the editorial, “were proven to be a fantasy” and ridership projections were “not based on reality.”
“President Joe Biden might as well have held a Rose Garden photo-op while chin-flicking taxpayers and taking a blowtorch to a $1 billion pile of cash,” the editorial board wrote.
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) praised the Biden administration’s restoration of the grant for the high-speed rail project, even though he admitted in 2019 that the original goals of the project “would cost too much and take too long.” Back then, Newsom decided to shrink the project to the track between Bakersfield and Merced.
Back in 2019, when Trump pulled the $929 million grant for the project, the Federal Railroad Administration released a statement saying California’s rail authority “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.”
During the project’s more than 10-year life so far, it has been sued multiple times by environmentalists for harming wildlife along the proposed route. The Associated Press reported in 2018 that the city of Shafter, California, received a settlement from California’s high-speed rail authority for allegedly violating the California Environmental Quality Act.
“It brings an end to one of seven environmental lawsuits filed against the ambitious project to build a high-speed train between San Francisco and Los Angeles. One is still pending,” the AP reported at the time.