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Infrastructure Stimulus Hits Snag In California

For most states in these times, the biggest problem is finding the money to spend on essential services. But in California, the state can’t even spend money once it finds it.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, despite the $700 million dollars allocated by Sacramento to upgrade mass transit systems in the Bay Area, people probably won’t see any improvements for ten years. While Bay Area citizens wait, red tape, NIMBY lawsuits, and bureaucratic wranglers will chew the upgrade plans to bits:

But even under the rosiest of projections, commuters won’t see the benefits until the end of the decade. BART’s new cars are unlikely to be “service ready” until 2017, and passengers won’t be able to ride the Central Subway or Caltrain’s electrified trains until 2019, according to the transit agencies. […]

Gary Patton, a Santa Cruz-based lawyer representing the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail, a group of private citizens in Bay Area cities who oppose the rail project, says the coalition has also been closely watching Caltrain’s plans to use Prop 1A funds for electrification. “We’re going to do everything we can to stop that,” says Mr. Patton.

What lawsuits don’t slow down, government red tape might. At Caltrain, construction depends on getting environmental clearance, a long and unpredictable process. “It’ll be at least a year before it [a construction contract for Caltrain electrification] goes to bid,” says Seamus Murphy, Caltrain’s director of government and community affairs.

Every infrastructure project in California turns into its own Jarndyce v Jarndyce. In a state where nothing is ever shovel-ready, infrastructure Keynesianism is dead.

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  • JJ

    Er, I think you mean $700 million, not billion.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @JJ: the floggings have begun.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    “In a state where nothing is ever shovel-ready, infrastructure Keynesianism is dead.”

    Keynesianism was always dead; all government spending is a burden on the economy and in a mature economy like America’s where we already have a completely modern infrastructure, how much economic benefit is there from infrastructure projects? $700 million would pay for 7,000 – $100,000 per year tax paying jobs if that money was left in the economy.

    America can’t afford these boondoggles; we need to milk the infrastructure we already have, spending only the minimum necessary to maintain those with cost effective economic benefits.

  • pashley1411

    You are considering something a bug, when its a feature.

    The objective to spend as much money on the “thinking” professions; the government bureaucracy, lawyers, special interests; so any money leaking down to hardhats and an actual project a waste.

    And should come as no surpise. Think Dickens in “Bleak House”. Actually resolving an estate in court is beside the point; the game is to fritter out the estate for attorney’s fees until the estate is wasted away.

    The bureaucracy and various interests have perfected this with government grant money.

  • John Barker


    I think 700 billion will be the final cost.

  • Rand Millar

    As per Prof. Mead’s occasional references to in-house disciplinary proceedings, might the atmosphere in the mill he runs be comparable to life in the one operated by Alexandre Dumas in the mid-19th century? Might such goings-on fairly be the inspiration for a neo-Dickensian novel?

  • Eurydice

    Maybe they should start looking under the sofa cushions – the California park system just found $54 million there.

  • Paul Krugman


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