DENHAM: Don't waste tax dollars on uncertain high-speed rail plan

June 20, 2013 

Monday's editorial ("Denham errs with HSR comments") mischaracterized my position regarding rail funding. But that doesn't change the fact the California high-speed rail project is no longer what voters approved in 2008. These stimulus dollars were meant for shovel-ready projects, and to date not one shovel has been turned.

On May 28, I conducted an oversight hearing on California's high-speed rail project in Madera where we confirmed the California High Speed Rail Authority is facing a $38 billion budget shortfall, which is expected to rise. I need to see a plan for a completed project to be built or we need to use that money for local infrastructure that is in immediate need of repair, bringing much-needed jobs to the valley. That's why I co-sponsored legislation to divert money from high-speed rail toward Highway 99, where it could be put to good use immediately.

Two weeks ago, I hosted a town hall meeting aboard the Altamont Corridor Express train listening to travelers about the benefits of ACE and how expansion could increase investment and employment in the valley. I am working with ACE to expand passenger rail here, where there is proven ridership, so they can better serve their customers with faster and more frequent trains. I hope to enable ACE to double the amount of train cars it operates, allowing for faster trips with more frequent and reliable service.

Additionally, I worked with my colleagues in the reauthorization of the highway bill to secure a dedicated stream of funding to fix ailing bridges in the valley so upward of 20 percent more of California's gas tax dollars will come back for transportation projects in California compared to previous years. California has long been a "donor" state and it's critical that more of your hard-earned tax dollars are put to use in this state.

The federal government has a responsibility to fund infrastructure in this country. As chairman of the House Subcommittee on Rail, our committee has focused on improving efficiency, safety and affordability as we review projects that are in a dire state of repair. I have long believed that we must focus on a fix-it- first policy with infrastructure instead of touting a high-speed rail project with no proven ridership, exploding costs and inconsistent business plans.

High-speed rail has a future in the United States and California. Let's not ruin its future by building an incomplete project that languishes through several presidents because of poor planning and undefined funding. If the project cannot be completed as promised to voters under Proposition 1A, then voters deserve an opportunity to vote on a new plan.

Otherwise, we are saddling future generations with more debt and more taxes for a project that will not be completed for several decades, if ever. In the meantime, we should be spending our scarce resources on valley projects that we know need repair, can have an immediate impact and will improve daily lives.

Denham, R-Turlock, represents the 10th Congressional District, which includes all of Stanislaus and part of San Joaquin counties. In 2008, he was a state senator whose district included all of Merced County and part of Stanislaus.

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