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High speed rail through Seattle: Is it hubris or is Gov. Jay Inslee clueless?

Inlsee high speed rail PC  Twitter account 80.jpg
Washington Governor Jay Inslee and British Columbia Premier John Hogan announce a combined effort to study high speed train service between Vancouver BC, Bellingham WA, Seattle WA and Portland OR. (photo: Gov. Inslee Twitter acct).{ }

hu·bris

?(h)yo?obr?s/

noun: hubris

excessive pride or self-confidence.

synonyms: arrogance, conceit, haughtiness, self-importance, egotism, pomposity, superciliousness, superiority;

Commentary by producer Phil Vandervort:

“We have the advantage of going to school in California,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee said. “Any mistakes they’ve made, we’re going to put it in the bank and learn from it.

That's the quote from Gov. Inslee championing a high speed rail line from Vancouver, British Columbia through Seattle and south to Portland, Oregon during a press conference on Friday March 16, 2018 with the British Columbia Premier, John Horgan.

Inslee's referral to California involves the skyrocketing costs of the high speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco. According to the San Jose Mercury News: linking San Francisco to Los Angeles with direct, high-speed rail service is four years behind schedule and may cost at least $77.3 billion — roughly $13 billion more than planners anticipated — transportation officials said.

Inslee apparently believes that should Washington, Oregon and British Columbia pursue a similar high speed rail corridor between the three metros, it's construction won't be mired in the same cost over-runs and delays that we've known about in California.

But Inslee's foolhardy quote from above ignores pertinent local examples of cost over-runs and delays in well known rail projects including Sound Transit's first two phases and just last week, Seattle's Street Car line.

Why the selective memory, Governor?

It lies in this second quote from Inslee's press conference with the British Columbia Premier: said Inslee, "When you build a high speed rail line, you are building a monument to optimism."

Inslee equates a high speed rail line with optimism. And that's what brings me to the concern that Inslee is clueless.

He refuses to acknowledge that both light rail and high speed rail supporters are unable to accurately estimate the costs of these incredibly expensive taxpayer projects. Inslee refuses to acknowledge that if these incredibly expensive high speed rail projects were financially viable there would be private (or publicly traded) companies--rather than taxpayer funded government bureaucracies--approaching elected officials to urge permitting for such transportation modes. Politicians stumping for another taxpayer subsidized light or high speed rail system when no private companies are suggesting such a plan should be a massive red flag for all involved.

And maybe most frustratingly, Inslee is completely incapable of seeing a very obvious future where automated cars and alternatively powered vehicles (that don't pollute like the internal-combustion engine does) are likely to provide efficient commuting options if a fraction of the money allocated for light rail (a projected $75 billion for three phases of Sound Transit) was invested into our freeway infrastructure to create reversible lanes throughout Puget Sound to maximize existing freeway capacity that is not used in peak traffic (example: in afternoon drive on southbound I-5 from Federal Way to Tacoma, the lanes are packed with vehicles while just a trickle of cars drive in the northbound lanes. Some of those northbound lanes could be reversed to the southbound direction in afternoon commute and vice-versa in the morning commute just the way the I-5 express lanes in Seattle and old I-90 express lanes used to work).

SIDEBAR: how green is high speed rail?

Additionally, where does Gov. Inslee foresee the high speed rail corridor right-of-way being built? Are you going to run the high speed trains on the existing track where landslides in Edmonds routinely shutdown service or the upgraded track that turned into a fatal Amtrak crash south of DuPont? The track's curving path from Everett to Mukilteo precludes anything close to the estimated top speed. Mukilteo and Edmonds residents (along with ferry riders) aren't going to be thrilled with high speed train travel through those crossings.

Are you going to tear up a path of homes, apartments or businesses to lay this track? Seattle and her north/south suburbs are already struggling with a lack of buildable land which is driving housing prices (and rents) into a low orbit. Does Inslee envision tunneling underneath Everett to South Tacoma to complete this high speed rail line? Because we all know how well tunneling worked out for the Highway 99 replacement to the Alaska Way Viaduct and Sound Transit's Light Rail link to the UW Stadium in Seattle!

Based on these initial observations alone it seems implausible that a high speed rail train from Vancouver B.C. south to Portland, OR could ever work, yet Inslee and the Washington Legislature have already pledged $1.2 million to study this colossally expensive plan. But that's what Democrats in Olympia want: another public transportation bureaucracy that requires taxpayer money.

Inslee and both the light & high speed rail supporters can't bring themselves to admit that they're betting on the wrong mode of future transportation. It literally looks like they're doubling down on an already too expensive idea. But that's what happens when government tries to pick winners and losers. Thu, Inslee is advocating a multi-billion-dollar, taxpayer funded, international high speed rail line in the name of "optimism" rather than "realism". Its another exorbitant, long-shot gamble advocated by a Governor who willfully ignores a large sample size of public works projects that fail to live up to expectations (consistent cost over-runs in government run rail systems).

That's why Inslee appears so painfully clueless in pursuing this unsustainable high speed rail line. Or he is so arrogant and conceited that he thinks that such a high speed rail line through Seattle won't hit the exact same construction delays and taxpayer liability in cost over-runs that we've seen with much smaller scale and ostensibly more manageable projects.

Governor, the taxpayers across Washington, Oregon and B.C. can't afford your hubris.

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