While we share his concerns about the cost of California's high-speed rail project, we think Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, was way out of line with his comment that $6 billion in federal and state money earmarked for the California project should go to the Northeast corridor of Amtrak instead.
At a June 6 field hearing in New York City, Denham went out of his way to ingratiate himself with advocates of the Northeast Corridor rail system. He even presented a list for where the $6 billion should go: replace the Baltimore and Potomac tunnels, build a new Portal South Bridge, replace the Susquehanna River Bridge and the Gunpowder River Bridge. He argued that those projects "are both clearly identified and necessary beyond dispute."
It's one thing for him to suggest that the $3.4 million that the federal government awarded to California's high-speed rail project go elsewhere, but he also threw in $2.6 billion from California's voter-approved Proposition 1A bonds, appropriated by the Legislature last July for the first 130-mile stretch in the valley.
That's our state money that we will be paying off.
Denham tried to bait the four East Coast panelists into agreeing with him. No takers.
Bob Yaro of the Regional Plan Association in New York said, "If you're looking for someone to do a hatchet job on California high-speed rail, I'm not sure I want to do that." He noted that both the Northeast and California expect to have 20 million more people in 30 years. He supports what he called "High-Speed Rail 2.0" for the Northeast Corridor and California, as well as Florida, Texas and the Midwest.
Denham has a responsibility to represent Californians and especially the Central Valley, where the unemployment averages more than 15 percent.
The high-speed rail project is on track to proceed. Construction on the first 29 miles of track between Madera and Fresno will start soon. Opponents like Denham need recognize that they've lost this political fight and to turn their attention to cutting costs and making sure it works.
While it is understandable that he questions the federal dollars, over which he has influence, going to California's high- speed rail, he should not be suggesting even in an off-hand way that California money should go to the other side of the country.