Imagine being able to board a train in San Francisco and three hours later be in Los Angeles. Comfy seats...club car...WiFi...no overhead bins...no sitting on the tarmac for hours waiting...no airplane at all. It's the stuff of great fantasy and Jerry Brown says he wants the state of California to build this bullet train. I can't think of a worse idea.
I don't get to see local papers very often. (who would have thought I would miss the Chronicle?) Once in a while one will cross my bunk and I get to see what's going on in the Bay Area. One story seems to jump off the pages. It is the disaster that is the construction of the new part of the Bay Bridge. It is an on-going series of revelations revealing a comedy of errors and outrageous incompetency on a grand scale.
From the snippets I get to read, CALTRANS chose a Chinese company to make the steel for the bridge even though it had never been involved in a bridge project before. The company balked and failed to follow stringent requirements for the manufacture of the steel and for the quality controls needed and instead of firing them and finding someone new, CALTRANS granted the exemptions and made excuses. Now inspectors are finding corrosion and bolts which are shearing off and evidence the company did not manufacture the steel up to standards. The steel is exposed to elements and water and salt and reacting to them when there shouldn't be a reaction. There are also reports of suspect concrete used in pilings and other places on the bridge as well as well as innumerable other problems and all of this plus a price tag which isn't even close to any original estimates and gives a new definition to the term sticker shock.
The latest outrage is the accusations that employees of the state who raised red flags about many of these concerns or warned about problems with the steel, concrete, structural plans, incompetence or criminally bad engineering were fired or demoted by CALTRANS. A report issued in January confirms an environment in which critics or whistleblowers, or just people trying to do their jobs, were intimidated and brow beat into shutting up and looking the other way or else. In the last few weeks, three more employees have come forward to accuse CALTRANS of firing them because they dared to raise questions about the quality of the work being done.
This is typical of the government's reaction to criticism. This happens on Pentagon procurement all the time. (the colonel who blew the whistle on the Bradley Fighting vehicle that it hadn't been tested and would kill everyone inside if struck by a rocket propelled grenade, was transferred to Greenland until Congress stepped in) Companies get government contracts and then cut every corner possible to maximize profit including shoddy material, poor construction and bad design. When someone raises questions about the practices, they are the ones attacked by a government bureaucracy which reflexively circles the wagons to protect itself. It is exactly what CALTRANS appears to have done in this case. As far as I can see, and I don't have all the data, no one in the upper echelons of CALTRANS or anyone in the state government, has lost their job because of this debacle. No one has been brought up on criminal charges, charged with obstruction or for cheating California taxpayers. As is typical, the whistleblowers lose their jobs while the higher ups stay untouched. Brown, of course, has done nothing and held no one accountable. No one has been fired nor has the leadership of the agency been shaken up and in fact he denies there are any serious concerns about the structural integrity of the bridge. At the very least taxpayers and commuters will both have to pay more through higher tolls and more tax revenue, and will be on the hook for billions in repairs and maintenance costs far into the foreseeable future.
Now this same governor...this same CALTRANS...this same incompetent group of state employees, contract supervisors, engineers and designers want to spend more than $60 billion to build a bullet train from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Really? Given what we know about how badly they blundered on the Bay Bridge and given how the costs were out of control...given their willingness to ignore or cover-up problems with materials, design, construction and other key facets of the project, you are being asked to let them have at another major construction undertaking? What is the definition of insanity?
"They" say it will cost about $60 billion. This means it will cost at least twice that, or more, when it is finally completed. "They" say it will be constructed with the best materials...the most advanced designs...using advanced high tech engineering. You know they will hire an incompetent company to save some money (which you will pay for at the back end when it's poorly completed). The company will try to cut every possible corner to maximize profit and if anyone raises an alarm, they will be fired or demoted as CALTRANS, or whoever is in charge, protects their own jobs at your expense. "They" say safety will be their highest priority just as it was with the Bay Bridge. How safe does that make you feel? "They" say this will create much needed construction and other jobs. Why not spend far less money repairing the state's infrastructure of roads and bridges which are in terrible condition and actually create more jobs right now in the construction industry and related fields?
It is impossible to look at the debacle of the new Bay Bridge and then rationally hand these same people over $60 billion of your tax dollars to do it again. The State of California, and the governor, (perhaps any governor) is incapable of building this train on-time, on budget, safely and they will stick taxpayers with the tab and it will never live up to even half of the promises being made about how it will perform and how much prosperity it will bring to the state.
My grandmother used to say the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. If you use the Bay Bridge as an example, it tastes like ass and smells just as bad. I would never vote, nor support anything which involves CALTRANS in a big construction project and the bureaucrats who come with it after watching how poorly they performed on something as vital as this bridge. Would you?