For years, we’ve heard vivid descriptions of the future of rail and promises of a “bullet train” in America that would travel at speeds exceeding 200 miles per hour. California was one of the early adopters of the idea in 2008, selling taxpayers on a 500-mile rail project promising to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles. Today, the project is 13 years behind schedule, and projected to end up more than $70 billion over budget. It is also putting low-income communities at risk, as many of their homes are demolished in the name of modern infrastructure.
Most notably, the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) purchased a site where the local community was planning on placing a homeless shelter. Officials from CHSRA assured residents that they would assist in building a shelter in a new location, but several years later, plans have still not been announced.
But it’s not just the homeless being tossed aside as the track runs through low-income minority communities like Wasco and Fresno. Many families are already seeing the construction closing in on their neighborhoods and fear the tracks will eventually block convenient access to their homes.
Ironically, it’s the “progressives” who are dumping more federal funding into this and similar projects. The Obama administration created a national plan of 12,000 miles of high-speed rail lines. The Biden White House, led by “Amtrak Joe,” has continually voiced support for the project. Meanwhile, Biden’s DOT just announced a $1 billion program to root out what it sees as racism in America’s roads, by ripping out functioning, “racist” highways as it sends taxpayer dollars to fund the continued displacement of minority and low-income communities by CHSRA.
I decided to raise these concerns to Secretary Buttigieg at a recent House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing. His response? “So every project has an impact,” he began. These communities will be better off once they have access to this transportation, he explained. Never mind the fact they may no longer have a roof over their head. At least they’ll have a bullet train in a decade.
I guess Secretary Buttigieg hopes this project will be completed soon and these communities won’t suffer for long. But the likelihood of the California High Speed Rail project ever being completed continues to shrink each year.
The fact is many of these communities will continue to live with uncertainty, weighed down by the looming threat of being uprooted from their homes, their home values severely damaged in the interim. Even worse, folks could be pushed out of their homes for railroad tracks that will never hold a train.
As delays continue, the cost of production continues to climb. What started with a $33 billion price tag is now predicted to cost $105 billion. The notion that these folks will have access to high-speed rail is looking more and more like a progressive pipedream.
Infrastructure investment is important, but money wasted on poorly conceived projects is money not invested in projects that would make transportation more efficient and reliable. We also should not be afraid to pull the plug on proposals when events on the ground later demonstrate a project’s fundamental nonviability.
We need congressional hearings to sort out how this project is failing so miserably. My hope is that such a review will improve future infrastructure project planning and assessment, while also ending federal taxpayer support for this wasteful and damaging California boondoggle. Those funds could be much better invested on useful infrastructure.
U.S. Representative Rick Crawford, Arkansas Republican, represents the 1st Congressional District and serves as the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee. He also serves as the Vice Republican Chair of the House Agriculture Committee and as the Ranking Member of the Counterterrorism, Counterintelligence, and Counterproliferation Subcommittee.