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Boondoggle update: Lessons from California

March 12. 2018 6:47PM

Some predictable news from the Golden State: The cost of the high-speed bullet train linking San Francisco and Los Angeles is going up again.

The latest estimates have the cost of the massive boondoggle jumping from $64 billion to at least $77 billion, and it could go as high as $98 billion. The time line has also been pushed back four more years. The original estimate back in 2008 was just $33 billion.

The Freakonomics podcast recently devoted an episode to the “optimism bias” in public megaprojects. They almost always cost far more than originally planned, take longer to build, and often deliver less than expected. Boston’s Big Dig cost nearly 10 times more than originally projected.

These lessons should teach caution to those hyping commuter rail for New Hampshire. Train junkies want to spend up to $300 million for a rail line that would serve up to 3,000 passengers per week. Even under this rose-colored scenario, the project would require annual subsidies, paid for by New Hampshire taxpayers.

California’s high speed rail line, and every other overbudget public works project, should remind us that commuter rail will cost more, and deliver less, than its supporters promise.

Transportation Editorial

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