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October 22, 2013
Another View: Walters misleads on high-speed rail

High_Speed_Rail_Station.JPG

Another View: Walters misleads readers about high-speed rail

(Oct. 22 -- By Dan Richard, Special to The Bee)

In his recent column about California's high-speed rail project, Dan Walters, wittingly or not, perpetuates misinformation from self-interested opponents of this critically important initiative. ("Bullet train a big test of integrity," Oct. 18). Let's set the record straight with facts about the work we are doing at the High-Speed Rail Authority.

In August 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown announced that he would support efforts to make high-speed rail a reality in California. However, he did so while calling on the authority to dramatically improve its plans, projections and administration. He appointed new board members, and we brought in a new CEO to turn the project around.

At that time, the funding plan and draft business plan, which Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny recently ruled were out of compliance with Proposition 1A, had already been drafted. The new team wrote a revised business plan, which improved ridership and cost estimates, and adopted a "blended approach" to bringing down the price, while still meeting the requirements of Proposition 1A. This is not the business plan Judge Kenny found in noncompliance; it is, however, the plan the Legislature accepted in appropriating funds for the project in July 2012 - an action that Judge Kenny said the Legislature has the right to take.

Once-critical impartial observers, like the Legislative Peer Review Group and the California State Auditor, now commend our approach and progress. Even when congressional critics thought they could embarrass or impede the project by asking the Government Accountability Office for an audit, the finding instead was that our ridership and cost projections were sound.

This hasn't stopped opponents from trying to kill the project. But the reality is that we can't build enough new freeways and airport runways to meet the demands of our fast-growing population; even if we could, the cost would far exceed that of modernizing our rail system. Moreover, our new approach helps bolster other critical rail projects throughout the state.

While we have taken legitimate criticism seriously, some opponents are clearly self-serving. For example, one small but influential group begged an obscure federal agency to take jurisdiction over the project and halt it; they got an answer they didn't like - yes, the agency has jurisdiction, but it fully supports the project. What's most galling are those who proclaim loudly that we must meet the standards of the bond act (and we are), but in the next breath seek to push the project onto a different route that is demonstrably inconsistent with the ballot measure's requirements to serve certain major cities.

Walters knows the Legislature voted to approve funding based on revisions that the Legislative Counsel deemed were in compliance with the law. The reality is that, with Gov. Brown's support and under his watchful eye, we are going forward with a high-speed rail project that the people voted for, the Legislature approved and California needs.

Dan Richard is chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

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