Taxpayer Challenge to High-Speed Rail Files Devastating Brief

The legal team challenging the California High-Speed Rail Authority's compliance with the 2008 Proposition 1A High-Speed Rail Bond Measure filed a
supplemental brief today. It explains the legal significance of a secret document recently uncovered by the Los Angeles Times. The Authority had resisted releasing it. Pressure from the State Assembly Republican Caucus and several Republican congressmen eventually forced the Authority to make it public. After the Authority capitulated, the court allowed the plaintiffs to file a supplemental brief.

Plaintiff Aaron Fukuda said "We hope this brief puts a stake in the heart of this boondoggle. The Authority's goal line defense to keep this document secret tells you just how damaging they knew it was."

Attorney Stuart Flashman said, "It’s understandable why the Authority wanted this evidence kept hidden. It directly contradicts the cost estimates in the Final 2014 Business Plan. The Business Plan’s deceptively lowered costs successfully pulled the wool over legislators’ eyes. Two months later, they gave the Authority billions of dollars in a multi-year gift of climate change mitigation funds. It’s hard to believe that would have happened had they known what a bottomless money pit the project had become."

A verdict for the plaintiffs would not only prevent HSR bond funds from being used for construction, it would shut off federal grants and state climate change funds as well.

CHSRA Releases Blockbuster Document

News broke late Tuesday that the HSR document reported on by the Los Angeles Times has been released by CHSRA.

Editorials in the
Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune called it out as a red flag for the HSR project.

Bay Area transit ridership down despite subsidies, enticements

In today’s Chronicle, Matier & Ross write about how regional transit ridership in the Bay Area has down for decades despite the many billions of dollars MTC has put into construction projects. This begs the question “Why?” For us, the answer is simple: MTC’s unique combination of indifference, incompetence and unwillingess to do the hard work of policy development has created a politicized unaccountable system that works great for contractors, but does little for Bay Area residents and commuters. See related several posts on this site: Bay Area Basics; a case study we did on MTC called Politics Trumps Outcomes; and a comment letter on how to set up a new transportation pot of money so that it is not wasted, as MTC’s resources have been. Read More...

TRANSDEF Files STB Challenge

In the second of two lawsuits filed today, TRANSDEF joined a coalition of non-profits and Central Valley county governments to challenge the decision of the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) preempting the application of CEQA to California’s HSR project. In what we consider to be a shocking use of state power, the California Attorney General has previously sought to eliminate the application of CEQA to the state’s HSR project.

On October 9, 2014 the CHSRA
petitioned the STB to block California courts from issuing injunctions that could stop construction of the HSR project. In an ugly turn of events, the STB issued a ruling on December 12, 2014 that blocked not only injunctions but all application of CEQA to the HSR project. Read More...

TRANSDEF Files Caltrain Electrification Lawsuit

TRANSDEF today joined in two litigation coalitions to file suit. In the first lawsuit, it joined the Town of Atherton and the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail to challenge the Caltrain electrification EIR. TRANSDEF’s concern here is that spending $1.5 billion on electrification will not do much to help ridership. That same money would have a much bigger effect on ridership if it were spent to build the Caltrain Downtown Extension to the Transbay Transit Center. Worse, by trading its current surplus capacity to the California High-Speed Rail Authority for electrification funding, it places a cap on its future ridership. In an era of climate change, in which we need transit operators to greatly expand their ridership, this is a profound strategic error.

For thirty years, Caltrain has wanted to electrify, but never had the money. TRANSDEF believes that this longstanding desire blinded it to the agency’s best interests. We see this as tragically similar to the Biblical tale of Esau selling his birthright to his brother Jacob because he was hungry one night.

TRANSDEF filed extensive comments on the
DEIR and the FEIR.

Cap and Trade Guidelines for Transit

TRANSDEF filed comments on January 30, 2014 on the draft Guidelines for the State Transportation Agency’s distribution of cap and trade funds to transit and intercity rail. The program, called the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program, will receive an ongoing 10% of cap and trade auction revenues. The final Guidelines were adopted today, and differed from the draft in the areas highlighted in yellow. None of the changes responded to our comments.

Our comments addressed the ongoing problem with large transportation projects: they promise too much and deliver too little, at a vastly higher price than initially promised. We wrote up a case study of MTC which we called
Politics Trumps Outcomes that identifies the politicization of project selection as the root reason why the Bay Area has lower transit ridership now than it did thirty years ago.