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February 28, 2018

California’s Green Transportation Follies

February 28, 2018
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California motorists drive almost 1 billion miles and consume about 40 million gallons of gasoline and 8 million gallons of diesel each day. To change these statistics, the state has had a zero emission vehicle (ZEV) program in place since 1990 that requires automakers to sell electric vehicles—the number required is based on the automaker’s overall sales within the state. If the automaker does not reach its quota, it must purchase credits from automakers that have sold more than their quota. California has a long-term goal of 1.5 million zero emission vehicles on the road by 2025.

Not only does California have a ZEV program but the state and cities are instituting other green transportation policies. For instance, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) leased electric vehicles that are either underutilized or misused because the electric vehicles cannot compete with gasoline or diesel vehicles regarding driving range, ease of refueling, and other vehicle needs. Further, the state has planned to build a bullet train the cost of which for one segment has increased by $4.6 billion—from an original cost estimate of $6 billion to a current cost estimate of $10.6 billion—a 77 percent increase.

LAPD Electric Car Fiasco

LAPD’s contract for electric cars was won by BMW, who is tasked to deliver 100 electric cars each year for three years to be used for administrative purposes. The department is leasing them for a cost of $10.2 million, including charging stations. An investigation of department records found some electric cars sitting idle with only a few hundred miles on them. With the use of hidden cameras, the investigation also found other cars being misused for personal business, such as driving to a nail salon for a manicure.

One reason that some of the electric cars are sitting idle is their limited range of only 80 to 100 miles on a charge. From records covering April 2016 through August 2017, the investigation found most of the electric cars had only been used for just a few thousand miles while others were driven for only a few hundred miles. As an example, one vehicle in service since May 27, 2016, had just 400 miles on its odometer, averaging 6 miles a week. The lease payment of a little over $418 a month results in a cost to taxpayers of over $15 a mile.

Bullet Train

The current estimated cost of building 119 miles of bullet train track in the Central Valley is $10.6 billion—an increase of $4.6 billion from the original estimate of around $6 billion. The increased cost is mainly due to higher costs for land acquisition, issues in relocating utility systems, the need for safety barriers where the bullet trains operate near freight lines and demands by stakeholders for the mitigation of myriad issues. On the first 31 miles from Madera to Fresno, the costs are expected to increase 35 percent to $3.4 billion—the biggest single geographical increase.

The intrusion barriers for the project are estimated to cost an extra $450 million; land buys, $400 million, delays for not acquiring land, $325 million; satisfying issues raised by localities, $250 million; and relocating wires, pipes, and cables used by utilities, $350 million. There is also is a $600-million contingency set aside to cover further unexpected problems that will be funded by unspecified cuts to future construction budgets. About a year ago, the Federal Railroad Administration warned that costs were increasing and that the Central Valley portion of the cost could reach $9.5 billion to $10 billion.

The increase in projected costs could require the state legislature to issue a supplemental appropriation from the bonds that voters approved in 2008. While the remaining bonds could cover the cost increases, using them would partly deplete funds for further construction beyond the Central Valley. The repayment of the existing bonds will cost around $18 billion in principal and interest over the next 30 years, which will come out of the state highway improvement fund.

It is unclear how the Central Valley cost increases will affect the total program, which is expected to cost $68 billion. The 77 percent increase in the Central Valley part of the project suggests the project estimates were vastly underestimated and did not adequately take into account the difficulties of buying land, obtaining environmental approvals, and navigating through complex litigation, among other issues. Further, there are even more difficult segments to the project, such as the long underground passage through the Tehachapi and San Gabriel Mountains and the route into the urban San Francisco Bay Area.

The task of building California’s bullet train will require drilling 36 miles of tunnels through the geologically complex mountains north of Los Angeles–the most ambitious tunneling project in the nation’s history. The tunnels are estimated to be finished by 2022 — along with 300 miles of track, dozens of bridges or viaducts, high-voltage electrical systems, a maintenance plant and six stations.

Support for the project has ebbed as cost estimates have increased. The $68 billion figure is more than double the $33 billion estimate made by the rail authority before California voters approved bonds for the project 10 years ago.


California, in its quest to lower its emissions, is funding projects that are expensive and wasteful. Taxpayers need to be aware of how the state and its cities are using their funds and determine whether such actions are beneficial to them.

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