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I Think I Con, I Think I Con: Muni Spends Millions to Connect to a Nonexistent Rail Line 

Wednesday, Dec 4 2013

Along with the Hogwarts Express and Polar Express, California's proposed High-Speed Rail line is quickly becoming one of the world's most illustrious imaginary train lines.

A pair of rulings last week from a Sacramento judge potentially broke the back of the long-gestating, fantastically expensive train project; the state High-Speed Rail Authority was prevented from selling $8 billion in bonds, and also found to have no inkling how the $68 billion endeavor would be funded. Those crippling blows come on the heels of August rulings against the High-Speed Rail Authority for failing to pony up $25 billion in initial funding and neglecting to undertake onerous environmental studies over the course of hundreds of miles of potential tracks.

As a pot-sweetener for local transit agencies, along with the billions in state High-Speed Rail dollars voters approved in 2008, some $950 million was earmarked for regional projects providing "connectivity" to the future bullet train. Muni was allotted $61.3 million of that pile for work on the Central Subway project. In bagging that money, it executed a neat trick: It applied "connectivity" funds to a project critics claim actually reduces connectivity to the potential High-Speed Rail line — a line that, increasingly, seems fated to never exist beyond renderings, watercolors, and huge vats of receipts.

Municipal Transportation Agency spokesman Paul Rose blithely assures SF Weekly that last week's legal stake through High-Speed Rail's heart won't affect the millions set aside locally to connect to the doomed line. "As you know, the $61.3 million grant has already been allocated from the state for the Central Subway project," he writes. "To date, the MTA has received $23.8 million in reimbursement with a remaining balance of $37.4 million."

The most recent hunk of state connectivity funds was a $15.4 million payment disbursed to Muni on Nov. 7. Muni plans on billing another $10 million this month, too. "The connectivity funds are already in hand," continues Rose, "and the recent ruling will not have an impact on the Central Subway project."

Being showered with scores of millions in state funds to provide less access to an imaginary railroad certainly sounds like something out of a fantasy. But it turns out that, not only is reality stranger than fiction — it's more expensive, too.

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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