California's High-Speed Project Railed at Congressional Committee Hearing

Photo Courtesy of California High-Speed Rail Authority

A U.S. House committee hearing about a high-speed train system between Los Angeles and San Francisco had opponents talking in circles for four hours on Thursday. The hearing, called "California's High Speed Rail Plan: Skyrocketing Costs & Project Concerns,"
included a heated and highly critical discussion led by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chairman Rep. John Mica (R-Fla), who has lately stepped away from his support of the transit mode.

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Mica has made it clear that he is skeptical of the Obama administration's pet program. "The California project appears to be a disaster," he said in his opening statement. "The project seems to be imploding."

He then called the location of the first proposed leg in Central Valley farmland a route that is about "more cows and vegetables, than riders." He questioned what travelers would be served in the farmlands of California for a sticker price of $5.8 billion.

Public opinion will change, said supporters, once the train is running. Roelof Van Ark, CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, emphasized jobs and the viable cost of travel versus flying.

These are the range of bullet points recanted from the last few years, but now a sense of urgency is felt as both sides see a shovel date for next year.

Even with congressional opposition apparent, Democratic representatives introduced vital projects in their region as recipients of potential funding.

"Any further money for high-speed rail needs to solely come to the Northeast Corridor," said Mica last month, according to Transportation Nation. The congressman stated he would commit to redirect rejected funding to the Amtrack project.

At the hearing, Rep. Devin Nunes, (R - Tulare County) supported Mica by countering projections that round-trip fare from Los Angeles to San Francisco will be $162. "It costs $350 to ride the fastest Amtrak train from New York to Washington," said Nunes, as he questioned the authority's credibilty.

"It is clear that high-speed rail is not about jobs," said Nunes at the hearing. "It is about corruption, public deception and bureaucratic experimentation."

Even the cost of revolving PR firms representing rail project came under fire. "If high-speed rail were widely supported, a multimillion dollar PR campaign would not be necessary," called out Nunes.

On Tuesday, the California High-Speed Rail Authority board decided to end a five month search to find another replacement firm, reported the Sacramento Business Journal.

The Obama Adminstration says the project will continue, despite its critics. $3.3 billion is committed for construction to start next year, said Joseph Szabo, Administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.

About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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