Two days before the Obama Administration ended, Federal Transit Administration Administrator Carolyn Flowers approved a $647 million federal grant for the CalTrain commuter service on the Peninsula. The federal grant was to electrify the service (currently the engines are diesel-powered) and to make the right-of-way suitable for the governor’s pet high-speed rail boondoggle should it ever reach the Bay Area.
California Republicans in Congress asked incoming Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to delay the grant until an audit is finished on the rail line. An internal document obtained by the Times in January showed the first segment from nowhere to nowhere in the Southern San Joaquin Valley was already 50 percent over budget. Republicans in the valley have been particularly critical of the high-speed rail project.
The governor reached out to the secretary with hand-written note, asking to talk. Contractors were set to begin work this month on the Peninsula.
Remember President Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill for shovel-ready projects—the high-speed rail line was included and was supposed to be under construction in 2012. The Obama administration kept finding ways to extend the deadline. Last year, the Legislature diverted $600 from the bond funding to CalTrain to electrify the 51-mile line and make it compatible with the high-speed rail.
The upshot of all of this—the swamp—Flowers now is working for a contractor, Aecom, on the Caltrain electrification project. She joined the firm 13 days after sending the letter approving the grant. Two other senior Obama administration officials have taken the same path from overseeing federal transportation projects to working for private sector companies building them.
Until this last move, Flowers had spent her entire career in public transportation agencies.
Draw your own conclusions.
Incidentally, the governor’s preferred—and thus far only ongoing source of funding for the choo-choo—continues in the doldrums. The February auction of cap-and-trade credits resulted in just 16.5 percent of the emissions allowances being sold.
It is the fourth auction in a row with mediocre results for those seeking more revenue for the government. The state will receive $8.2 million instead of the $600 million it could have with a sold-out auction.
Gov. Brown proposed to spend $2.2 billion on climate change blockers in his budget, including $800 million on the train boondoggle.
The result will be a question of whether the Democratic leadership can hold its caucus together to pass more climate change legislation to solidify the program beyond its 2020 sunset. Without that, investors likely continue to shy away from the credits, creating further budget challenges for the train and other initiatives.
That would be a welcome gift to taxpayers.