Way Worse Than Solyndra

Via the Antiplanner

The California High Speed Rail Authority has reason to be thankful this week as the U.S. Department of Transportation gave it another $900 million, keeping hopes alive for the state’s rail program. That means the feds have given the state a total of about $4.5 billion which, when matched with state bonds (which can only be sold when matched by other money) brings the authority’s total funds to $9 billion.

I have written any number of times that this project is simply doomed.  Either it will fail to complete, after spending billions, or worse, will spend well over $100 billion to create an enormous white elephant whose potential ridership is being grossly exaggerated (by exactly those folks whose salaries are paid by these federal grants)


  1. me:

    Argh. One of the things I admired about China was that once a project was decided, it would just happen. Want a new subway line? Ok, construction will start next month. None of the "let's sink millions into feasibility and environmental impact assessments". The epitome of wasteful spending.

  2. gordon-bennett:

    And, of course, it's nothing new (see link below). Bureaucrats/politicians never learn from anyone's experience - they keep repeating their mistakes until they run out of our money, and then do more.


  3. GoneWithTheWind:

    You are absolutely correct if you assume the purpose of this is the stated purpose, i.e. building a high speed rail line. However if the purpose is to fund special interest groups and build hopes in a couple million union voters and secondary contractors then this effort is a HUGE success. It is amazing what a few billion dollars will buy and who it can re-elect.

  4. caseyboy:

    me, admire the Chinese because they get things done? Same could have been said for the Nazi's. Things can happen pretty quickly when you limit the decision makers and ignore the affects.

    Once upon a time America could do those things and we didn't have to abdicate our liberty to do so. However, the times they are a changing.

  5. me:

    @caseyboy: I'd say these are two different issues: one is the amount of overhead through regulation that a given system of governance requires per action; the other is the degree of civil liberties in a given state. Weirdly enough, China actually felt like a freer place than the US has become (and, to be quite clear: yes, they have an autocratic regime that restricts personal freedoms. On the other hand, so do we these days.) I don't think that either has reached the level of the German fascist state of 60 years ago yet, although the US is probably slightly ahead in that race, given that we're going from democratic free to autocratic and the Chinese are moving in the other direction.

  6. Noah:

    Wouldn't it be cheaper to give each Congress Critter $10M tax free?

  7. IGotBupkis, Sailing the Economic Seas Betwixt Scylla And Charybdis:

    >>> It is amazing what a few billion dollars will buy and who it can re-elect.

    Can Cali actually re-elect the same people if it goes into receivership? Shouldn't everyone in office in Cali be required to resign and never run for public office ever again?

    Come the Revolution, *this* should be part of the new Constitution.

  8. IGotBupkis, Sailing the Economic Seas Betwixt Scylla And Charybdis:

    >> Wouldn’t it be cheaper to give each Congress Critter $10M tax free?

    Much cheaper still to provide 8 ounces of high-velocity lead from 8 slightly different directions...

    Or perhaps 6 feet of rope and a two foot fall.

    Either one would do a remarkable job in providing encouragement for their replacements, too.

  9. Ted Rado:

    How anyone can argue that government choosing projects rather than having competitive free enterprise do it is beyond comprehension. The collective minds and studies of our entire population determines which ideas are worth pursuing, not a bunch of political hacks.

    This is just another example of idiot politicians deciding that they know better, with the added benefit (to them) of buying votes. What a bunch of crooks/morons/thieves/incompetents (pick one or more).

  10. me:

    Although one reminder about democratically decided funding: we had a local election recently in which the entire state got to vote on who should pay taxes for a construction project: of course the half of the state who'll never use it voted to have local tolling to raise the funds. Some folks are real upset about that and swear that they'll do their best to get a measure on the ballot to have construction in those states funded by revenues from users exclusively in the future... moral of the story: scope is what is crucial in voting for funding...

  11. Mesa Econoguy:

    Bupkis is clearly onto something.

    Pooled ingenuity to take out people with these ideas, and pooled litigation funds to stop them from inception. And legal defense if action is warranted.

  12. Matt:

    The various congress critters whould be most hurt by public humilliation. You bring the tar, I'll bring the feathers.

    Just for fun, I won't take them off the chickens first. :)

  13. marco73:

    The project just has to stay alive until after the 2012 elections. The administration already has enough bad economic news; having California high speed rail fold or delay would just be more bad news.
    Apparently they have to start construction by September 30, 2012, or lose federal funds. I'll bet that they'll lay down 100 yards of Potemkin rail by then, just to show they have something.
    And its only about 2 Solyndra's worth of cash. A "Solyndra" should be the new short hand for a 1/2 billion dollar energy boondoggle.

  14. chuck martel:

    There's presently an $800 million light rail project being built the eleven miles between the downtown areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. In dollar terms it's the largest construction project in the history of the state and won't be finished until some time in 2013. Last week on my way to work I traveled on 2 miles of the route in St. Paul, main thoroughfare University Ave. from Lexington Ave. to Rice Street. At the commute time of 6:45 AM, with I-94 two blocks south bumper to bumper with traffic, in that two mile stretch of University Ave. there were THREE people waiting to catch the bus, THREE.

  15. frankania:

    and 70 million for one mile of electrified fence on the Mexican border?
    I could do it for about 5000 bux, amigos. Just give me the contract!

  16. Allen:

    @Chuck, the reason you saw so few people waiting for the bus is that because University is already well served by buses (50, 50S, 16, et al.). BRT could have been built on the same for a 1/4 of the cost and a much better increase in ridership / $$$$$$$.

    Cali's HSR pipe dream isn't the only waste of $,$$$,$$$ being spent to satisfy a few niche constituents. MnDOT continues to spend money on planning for projects linking the Twin Cities with small cities like Duluth and Rochester.

  17. Mark:

    What is also interesting is why it costs so much to build things today. I figure, yes we can't have workers killed like on the Hoover dam, but you would think all our modern construction knowhow would increase efficiencies to overcome that.

    The Golden Gate Bridge was built for $37 million. If you extrapolate that into today's dollars and toss in all the interest payed, supposedly the GG Bridge could be built for 1.2 billion dollars.

    You think we could even get within 10x of that? It costs us 10 billion just to dig a hole in Boston.

    Is it just regulations and all the extra court costs, misapplication of inflation stats, or what? Because if we could build this train for a mere 12 - 24 billion, instead of 120 to 240 billion. it might be worth it.

  18. Matt:


    there are lots of things that go into building anything costing more than what inflation since the GG Bridge was built can account for.

    Gov regulation plays a role: EPA regs increase cost of even getting to the point where ground can be broken on the project as well as actual construction costs. OSHA and NLRB regs will increase labor costs.

    On top of regulatory costs add corruption. The bigger the government gets, the more incentive there is to sink ever larger sums into corrupting the process rather than compeating fairly.

    Then you get to lowest bidder government contracting. Enacted for the purpose of reducing corruption, but it does nothing of the kind. Instead what results is one of three things.

    An outright incompetent contractor is initially selected. In which case, a new compentant contractor (that wasn't the lowest bidder) will have to eventually be brought in. The new contractor won't even be able to start from 0 on their original bid but will have to spend $$ to fix the mistakes of the original contractor.

    A contractor is selected who may be competant in terms of the actual construction but is not competant at estimating work of large projects. This of course will inevitably end in cost over-runs.

    A contractor who deliberately under bid the real costs, knowing that if the project gets far enough before this is discovered the government will not be in a position to kill the project but will have to pay up for the true cost.

    However, the biggest cause behind this is that due to the increase in corruption the pollitians end goals have changed. Back when the GG Bridge was built, the goal was actually to build a bridge. Today, the goal is not to actually acomplish something, but to buy votes by spending other peoples money in the polititian's district. With this as the goal, completing the project at all, much less completing it within the original budget is actually counter productive to the true purpose of the project.

  19. IGotBupkis, Sailing the Economic Seas Betwixt Scylla And Charybdis:

    >>> Just for fun, I won’t take them off the chickens first.

    LOLZ. OK, but
    a) Who is bringing the rail?
    b) Which people are going to carry the rail with its attendant load? Any volunteers?

  20. IGotBupkis, Sailing the Economic Seas Betwixt Scylla And Charybdis:

    >> A “Solyndra” should be the new short hand for a 1/2 billion dollar energy boondoggle.

    "A couple Solyndras here, a couple Solyndras there, sooner or later it adds up to Real Money..."

    Yeah, that works.

  21. Matt:


    I forgot about the rail. I don't know who can supply that, but as for carying it, I bet we could find plenty of big burrly carrer NCOs who would volunteer to carry it.

    U.S. national politics, the vary essence of FUBAR or is that FUBB.