More Money, More Problems—Bridge Problems—with California’s Embattled Bullet Train, by Scott Shackford

Here’s an excellent slap in the face to all those who think that government is an efficient provider of infrastructure. From Scott Shackford at reason.com:

First California took billions of taxpayer dollars to build an unneeded, overpriced (but underbudgeted) bullet train through the middle of the state. Now, even though an operating train line doesn’t even yet exist, part of it has to be rebuilt.

For the past several years, the state has been building its first segment of a high-speed rail line near Fresno. Late last year, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) ordered one of its contractors to stop construction of a bridge over a street and start it all over.

This apparently was all done fairly quietly. Los Angeles Times reporter Ralph Vartabedian (who has been doing excellent work documenting exactly how this gaping money pit has been growing larger and larger) just found out and wrote about the situation late last week:

In a statement, the authority said the Avenue 8 bridge design did not meet its “level of quality for a work product” and showed “signs of distress.” Some time after last September, the authority had [contractor] Tutor Perini start on an entirely different design, agency documents show. The decision has not been previously reported.

The rail authority said it is discussing who will bear the cost of the rework.

I’m guessing…Californians? The head of Tutor Perini insists that the CHSRA previously approved the bridge structure, then changed its mind. Apparently the first bridge was made with retaining walls filled with carefully packed earth and concrete support pillars. The new version they want would use poured concrete instead of soil, which is less likely to fail.

It’s also, obviously, going to be more expensive. Reason has been reporting the financial ups and downs of this train boondoggle for years. Californians may recall that the bullet train’s boosters sold it to taxpayers by getting the purported price down to $68 billion. Critics have been warning all along that the agency had dramatically underestimated the cost of building the train; this incident is a good illustration of how that happened.

The train agency has now finally admitted that the project is going to cost billions more than estimated, possibly as much as $98 billion. Oh, and it’s going to take longer to construct as well. Set your calendar for another decade, Californians! Seriously, it’s not expected to be in service until 2029. By then we’ll all have self-driving vehicles (I exaggerate—but maybe not as much as I think).

To continue reading: More Money, More Problems—Bridge Problems—with California’s Embattled Bullet Train

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