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The folly of high-speed rail, redux; Plus: Did Obama consult J-Nap on “no pat-down” promise?

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By Michelle Malkin  •  January 26, 2011 12:04 AM

Among President Obama’s many pie-in-the-sky promises tonight, he delivered this:

“Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying – without the pat-down. As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.”

Like so much of the speech, the high-speed rail folly is recycled claptrap (he tossed it into last year’s speech, too). The remarks will appease Big Labor and eco-radical social planners led by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who’ll have his grubby hands all over the high-speed rail slush fund faster than you can turn off your soon-to-be-banned cell phone.

I pointed out last September that Obama’s infrastructure scheme is the mother of all Big Dig boondoggles:

President Obama calls his latest attempt to revive the economy a “Plan to Renew and Expand America’s Roads, Railways and Runways.” I’m calling it “The Mother of all Big Dig Boondoggles.” Like the infamous “Big Dig” highway spending project in Boston, this latest White House infrastructure spending binge guarantees only two results: Taxpayers lose; unions win.

The plan would add at least $50 billion more to the nearly $230 billion already allocated in the original trillion-dollar stimulus law for infrastructure. Less than one-third of that infrastructure stimulus money has been spent, but the urgency to pile on has increased exponentially as the midterm elections approach and unemployment hovers near 10 percent. So, the president says he wants to “put people back to work” through a new “upfront investment” in surface transportation, airports and the air-traffic control system paid for by repealing tax incentives for the oil and gas industries — followed by massive, unpaid-for expenditures on pie-in-the-sky high-speed rail, “environmental sustainability” and “livability,” whatever that means.

Obama spoke emotionally at an AFL-CIO rally on Labor Day about unemployed construction workers. A “lot of those folks, they had lost their jobs in manufacturing and went into construction; now they’ve lost their jobs again,” he said. “It doesn’t do anybody any good when so many hardworking Americans have been idled for months, even years, at a time when there is so much of America that needs rebuilding.”

But here’s the rub: Not all workers are equal in Obama’s eyes. And most of them will remain “idled” by the Democrats’ own design. The key is E.O. 13502, a union-friendly executive order signed by Obama in his first weeks in office, which essentially forces contractors who bid on large-scale public construction projects worth $25 million or more to submit to union representation for its employees.

The blunt instrument used to give unions a leg up is the “project labor agreement (PLA),” which in theory sets reasonable pre-work terms and conditions — but in practice, requires contractors to hand over exclusive bargaining control; to pay inflated, above-market wages and benefits; and to fork over dues money and pension funding to corrupt, cash-starved labor organizations. These anti-competitive agreements undermine a fair bidding process on projects that locked-out, nonunion laborers are funding with their own tax dollars. And these PLAs benefit the privileged few at the expense of the vast majority: In the construction industry, 85 percent of the workforce is nonunion by choice.

We don’t need to theorize about how this shakedown works in the real world. Boston’s notorious Big Dig was a union-only construction project thanks to a Massachusetts government-mandated PLA. The original $2.8 billion price tag for the project skyrocketed to $22 billion in state and federal taxpayer subsidies thanks in no small part to ballooning labor costs. In February, the Bay State’s Beacon Hill Institute found that PLAs added 12 percent to 18 percent to school construction costs in Massachusetts and Connecticut. In Washington, D.C., the Department of Veterans Affairs commissioned an independent study showing that PLAs would increase hospital construction costs by as much as 9 percent in some markets.

In short, Obama’s new Union Infrastructure Rescue Plan is a political favoritism scheme that raises the cost of doing business and bars tens of thousands of skilled, nonunion laborers who choose to run open shops from securing work. In the name of patching up America’s highways and byways, Mr. Fix It would create another gaping fiscal sinkhole to appease his special interest donors. Recovery Summer turns to Union Payback Fall.

And in 2008, I walked through the wasteland of high speed rails to nowhere:

Bay Area officials are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of tens of billions of dollars in tax subsidies for a high-speed rail line from Oakland to Los Angeles. This is so wrong on so many levels. Can anyone say “High-Speed Rail to Nowhere?”

With the economy in recession, California’s plan to ask the federal government for billions of dollars to help build the nation’s first high-speed rail system might seem like wishful thinking rather than a feasible financial strategy.

But transportation officials say that California’s high-speed rail project seems to be on a fast track to a hefty federal contribution – perhaps as much as $15 billion to $20 billion.

That optimism in the face of a dire economic outlook is the product of the priorities of President-elect Barack Obama’s administration; the likelihood of a big federal infrastructure investment; growing concern over climate change; the volatility of gas prices; Californians’ backing of the $10 billion high-speed rail bond measure and strong support for the project from the state’s potent congressional delegation, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“It seems like the stars are aligned,” said Rod Diridon of San Jose, a member of the High Speed Rail Authority.

Building the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles and Anaheim line that will be the spine of the system will cost between $32.8 billion and $33.6 billion, according to the High Speed Rail Authority’s business report. Extensions built later would cost another $12 billion. In addition to the $10 billion from state bond sales, the authority is counting on $12 billion to $16 billion in federal funds plus $6.5 billion to $7.5 billion in private investment and $2 billion to $3 billion in local contributions.

(link to SFgate article)

Okay, where to begin? It currently costs $49 one-way to fly Southwest from Oakland to Los Angeles. That flight takes about an hour and fifteen minutes. How much ya think it’ll cost to ride the high-speed line from O-town to L.A.? For comparison’s sake, government-funded Amtrak trips from Washington to New York’s Penn Station cost about $133 one-way on the Joe Biden-endorsed Acela (if they’re running). That trip takes about two hours and 45 minutes.

More data for you: It’ll take you about six-seven hours to drive from Oakland to Los Angeles on the I-5– and at current gas prices, it’ll cost you a mere $25 (with a few more bucks if you stop by In-N-Out!)

Bottom line: Who in their right mind would take this high-speed rail line? And why should people in Des Moines and Miami and Chicago pay for California commuters to ride it?

The bureaucrats say it’ll cost $30 billion, plus $12 billion for every extension — which means you should triple the asking price. There’s no need to guess whether this thing will be a money pit. Just look at the Los Angeles MTA black hole.

One last point: Who will get all the vaunted jobs the high-speed rail line boondoggle promises to deliver? Bloated unions.

The more things change…

***

Reader Terry adds: “I don’t know just how much you know about California topography, but the High Speed Train will be doing about 30 mph when it is going over the mountains outside Bakersfield. Someone should do a story on this issue by itself. It is a joke without a punchline.”

A very, very expensive joke.

Allll aaaaboard!

***

Parting questions: Obama got laughs for emphasizing the no-pat-down appeal of rail travel. (Video here.)

But does he really need to be advertising lax transit security to the world and our enemies?

And did he double-check with his own DHS Secretary before inserting the line into his Teleprompter?

Flashback: Napolitano Eyes Tighter Security for Trains, Ships, Mass Transit

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