Monday, June 13, 2011

High Speed Rail

It makes great sense for California and will enable people to travel the long commute from the southland to the Bay Area and Sacramento in record time, adding another option along with flying and the long drive.

The rationale for doing it, as reported in the Sacramento Bee, even in tough economic times, is similar to the rationale that should be adopted to build another vital public facility, the Auburn Dam.

An excerpt.

“The last time many Californians thought about high-speed rail was in the voting booth. On that day, Nov. 4, 2008, more than 6 million of us voted to tell the state to get going, to build high-speed rail in California.

“Now, 2 1/2 years later, the second guessing is in full swing. In recent weeks some have suggested that we should put the project on hold.

“We couldn't disagree more.

“California will need high-speed rail in the coming years to do something about the gridlock on our roads and at our airports. Building it is a major investment, but the most recent estimates say it would cost twice as much over the next generation to build new highways and runways just to move the same number of people. With California expected to grow by 12 million people in the next 25 years, investment in the state's transportation system is inevitable, and high-speed rail is a cost-effective alternative.

“In the last 2 1/2 years the case for high-speed rail has gotten stronger, not weaker. When voters approved the plan, a barrel of oil cost about $55; today the price is almost $100. Unemployment was around 8 percent back then, and it is now over 12 percent statewide and even higher in many areas. Californians need the jobs.

“There are bound to be questions with any project of this size. We welcome the dialogue. Last month the Legislative Analyst's Office published a report calling for at least a temporary halt to the project. The report alluded to a number of concerns about the project:

• The amount and timing of future federal funding are unclear.

• Spending state funds on rail will mean there is less money for other things.

• We do not yet know how much private investment the system can attract, or when it will come.

• Starting construction in the Central Valley is "a gamble."
“Let's take the criticisms one at a time.

“First is federal funding. While we don't know precisely how much we will get in future years, we've competed well up to this point. California's project has received the largest slice of federal high-speed rail funds to date – $3.6 billion out of $10.2 billion. This is in large part due to the extensive planning already under way at the state level and the ability to leverage voter-approved Proposition 1A funds. There is no other program where California competes so well for federal funding. We will continue to encourage additional investment – both public and private – while promoting efficiencies that allow us to stretch every dollar in creating jobs and planning for the future growth of this great state.

“Second is state funding. The voters said high-speed rail was a priority and authorized spending $9 billion in state funds. The state continues to experience fiscal constraint due to diminishing revenues, but because construction is ramping up slowly we will only need 2 percent of these funds in the coming year to keep the project on track. The amount approved by voters will be spent over many years, keeping the impact on our state's budget low in any given year.”