I knew as I was leaving the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee hearing yesterday, there was a good chance that I’d missed something important about AB 3034 or that I’d not fully understood the implications of the things I did catch for the story I was about to write.
I like to think that’s not because I’m clueless about the California high-speed rail saga. It’s just that the way legislation often moves in Sacramento, one can be forgiven for sitting through a two-hour hearing and still being puzzled as to what just happened.
My editor called me as I stopped off to get a latte with some of the Lost Patrol of bullet train opponents.
He asked me what had happened, and I fumbled a bit before arriving at the main news: “They approved it.”
Then I attempted to explain the changes they made, how even the bill’s sponsor, Assembly member Cathleen Galgiani of Stockton, admitted that she’d agreed to changes she’d just received upon walking into the room and may not have fully understood them.
One of the key changes came from my friends at the Professional Engineers in California Government, known affectionately as “Peg.” It appears that this being a the biggest public works project ever to come down the pike, it needed a provision stating the California High-Speed Rail Authority “shall” use state planning and engineering services.
As might be expected, groups representing firms that do those things privately objected, but the argument they used may have considerable weight: The state constitution prohibits the legislature from limiting public projects’ choice of engineers and such.
So here’s the critique that was awaiting me on that point from Gerald Cauthen, an engineer with the Train Riders Association of California:
You say that only 10% of the cost of the bond issue money can be used for “planning and engineering” and that only half of the bond issue money can be used for “stations and track”.You’ve missed a couple of key points.AB 3034 actually says “preliminary engineering”, not “engineering”. There is a HUGE difference between preliminary engineering and engineering. Preliminary engineering is conceptual and does not include construction documents. Engineering normally include complete plans and specifications (in this case tens of thousands of plans) ready for construction as well as preliminary engineering. It appears that under AB 3034 as currently written the State of California could end up paying for virtually all of the planning and preliminary engineering…..meaning that if the bond issue passes the consultants, and/or State engineers are going to have a field day for the next few years, regardless of whether or not the funds needed to actually build the system ever arrive.
The AB 3034 restriction that only half of the bond issue can be used for stations and track is equally misleading. How much of the total cost of the project do you think goes into stations and track? How about right of way acquisition? How about the cost of the vehicles? How about electrification? How about signaling? How about grade separations? How about maintenance yards? The fact is that AB 3034’s current language could easily lead to the people of California to end up paying 85% or more of the cost of the project.