Two excellent opinion pieces were published Monday on the administration’s high-speed rail boondoggle. One was an editorial in the Wall Street Journal:
We suppose every President is entitled to a pipedream, but President Obama’s vow in his State of the Union address that 80% of Americans should have access to high-speed rail in 25 years is a doozy Vice President Joe Biden has followed up by proposing $53 billion in high-speed rail funding over the next six years. Seriously?….
Even California, that famous incubator of pipedreams, is having second thoughts….Based on the costs of high-speed rail lines in Europe and Japan, the price tag (of California’s planned high-speed rail) likely will fall between $62 billion and $213 billion. A one-way ticket from San Francisco to Los Angeles will cost about $190, which means more people will choose to fly…. Even if the state somehow manages to attract $10 billion in private equity, its business plan calls for another $5 billion in local grants and $15 billion more in federal funds. The $15 billion that they want from the feds would be nearly a third of Mr. Biden’s $53 billion figure. Maybe high-speed rail is a back-door bailout for California….
Until the proponents of high-speed rail solve the problem of runaway costs, we’ll stick with the train in Disney’s Fantasyland.
The other item was a column by the esteemed economic writer Robert Samuelson, who normally tries to give the administration the benefit of the doubt. This time, he minced no words:
(T)he administration would pay states $53 billion to build rail networks that would then lose money–not a little, but lots–and, thereby, aggravate the budget squeezes of the states or federal government, depending on which covered the deficits.
There’s something wildly irresponsible about the national government’s undermining states’ already poor long-term budget prospects by plying them with grants that provide short-term jobs. Worse, the high-speed rail proposal casts doubt on the administration’s commitment to reducing huge budget deficits…. How can it subdue deficits if it keeps proposing big new spending programs?
High-speed rail would definitely be big. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has estimated the administration’s ultimate goal — bringing high-speed rail to 80 percent of the population — could cost $500 billion over 25 years. For this stupendous sum, there would be scant public benefits. Precisely the opposite. Rail subsidies would threaten funding for more pressing public needs: schools, police, defense….
Governing ought to be about making wise choices. What’s disheartening about the Obama administration’s embrace of high-speed rail is that it ignores history, evidence and logic. The case against it is overwhelming. The case in favor rests on fashionable platitudes. High-speed rail is not an “investment in the future”; it’s mostly a waste of money. Good government can’t solve all our problems, but it can at least not make them worse.