Yesterday in California's flood-prone capital city, a superior court judge twice slammed the brakes on plans for the state's high-speed rail between San Francisco and Los Angeles. While the two rulings handed down yesterday won't completely halt the project, experts fear it will cut into public support for an already slow-moving project.
In the first of two rulings handed down yesterday, Judge Michael Kenny blocked the sale of the $8 billion in bonds that Californians approved at the ballot box with Prop 1A way back in 2008. In the second ruling, Judge Kenny sided with a farmer, a homeowner and the Board of Supervisors of Kings County, who are all suing the HSR Authority for not completing all the necessary environmental clearances laid out in the same Prop 1A.
According to one transportation expert cited in the Fresno Bee, the project can still move forward with selling the bonds and building 29-mile test track which recently started construction in the central valley between Merced and Fresno. If anything, Judge Kenny's rulings limit available state funds for a project that is already fighting to find cash. It doesn't affect federal stimulus funds, but even those dollars require the state of California match them with funds from Prop 1A.
Yesterday's rulings also slow down construction of the first segment meant to actually carry passengers: a section from LA to Merced, which is just south of Modesto. That section, which would have been useful for aspiring actors looking to escape their central valley roots, was scheduled to be completed in 2022. In total, the project only has about $6 billion of the $30 billion it needs to finally start zipping Californians back and forth for Giants-Dodgers games.
According to former High-Speed Rail Authority chairman Rod Diridon Sr., the real threat to the project is how incredibly long it's taking to get this train moving. As Diridon told the Fresno Bee, "You've got a project that's been going on for a long time, and it's delayed time and time again by very small groups of people who have used tremendous amounts of money to delay it. There's a tendency on this type of project, if it's delayed for a long time, to become a victim of inertia."