In light of recent news, thought I should post this. The final from my special topics course on California HSR. The assignment was to write as if to a legislator persuading him or her to approve or disapprove of issuing the Prop. 1a funds to build HSR. not so complete and detailed (max. 10pgs—i wrote 4) as I wrote it just a few hours before it was due, after writing a bs 17pg paper for another class.. But yeah, my view on it.
Dear Mr. Legislator Boss,
The decision whether to approve issuance of the first $3 billion worth of Proposition 1a High Speed Rail bonds is coming up. I urge you to vote YES to issue the bonds and begin construction of the HSR project.
California high speed rail has been in planning stages for more than a decade, and it is time to bring it to fruition. The state’s budget problem is a major issue, so it is vital to claim all the funding we can for the project. There are many benefits of high speed rail that outweigh its costs, and even if now if not the right time to build the complete high speed rail network all at once, it should be built nevertheless.
California’s population is expected to grow from 38 million to 60 million by 2050. Additional transportation infrastructure is needed to serve the mobility needs of the growing population. The Draft Revised 2012 Business Plan reduced the estimated cost of the project from $98.5 billion to $68.4 billion, and although this may still be an underestimate, it is still a bargain compared to other transportation investments. Phase 1 Blended, a one-seat ride in 2029 from San Francisco on HSR trains and blended operations with Caltrain and Metrolink, has the equivalent capacity to 4,300 new highway lane miles, 115 additional airport gates, 4 new airport runways, for an estimated total of $158 billion for road and airport extensions, and $132.8 billion operating and maintenance costs over 50 years for the additional highway infrastructure (Caltrans estimates). So in comparison to other transportation investments, high speed rail is more cost-efficient. HSR may even have less environmental impact than building more highways, airport gates and runways, which will then continue air and automobile travel, modes of transportation that have been shown to increase carbon emissions and contribute to climate change.
The economic benefits of high speed rail are significant. In the current state of our economy, a big driver of economic opportunities should be very warmly welcomed. An average of 20,000 jobs annually would be created for the five years of initial construction, 66,000 jobs annually over 15 years for Phase 1 Blended construction, and 2,900 permanent operations jobs for Phase 1 Blended. High speed rail would be the state’s largest public works project, and the creation of jobs through it would revitalize the economy, improving the lives of many who are currently out of work.
High speed rail would also revitalize region- and city-level economies by building stops and connecting places that are currently disconnected and lack transport options. Encouraging more travel by having stops in certain cities would increase business for local economies. For example, new restaurants and shops would open to serve new visitors. Transit-oriented development could be built around stations, with housing, offices, and other mixed uses. Having a high speed rail station could encourage more smart growth—compact, walkable, bike-able, transit-friendly neighborhoods instead of unsustainable sprawling subdivisions that require higher levels of energy and land use.
However, a problem with the present high speed rail plan is that it is heavily politicized. Cities such as Anaheim tacked itself back on to the high speed rail map after having been removed. The High Speed Rail Authority must disclose its funding sources and connection in order to decouple what should be a very logical—from an engineering and planning standpoint—plan from what is has become now—a grab bag for cities and municipalities. Decisions on where to place stations should be based on real facts and reason rather than on selfish pleas and money from city officials.
That said, I believe that the high speed rail plan is imperfect. The route could be rerouted to skip towns that do not need a high speed rail connection, and to stop in other cities instead. Nevertheless, it is urgent to start building HSR. The Interstate Highway was not completed with concrete plans for every stretch, and HSR should not be expected to, either. Japan’s high speed rail network began with one line, and was only extended years later as money became available and more studies done.
It is imperative to start building California High Speed Rail as soon as possible, while there are some sources of funding for it. The Initial Operating Section needs to be built, despite being located “nowhere”. It will prove that high speed rail can be built in America, and serve as a testing ground for the technology until it is ready to be built in other sections, and also serve as the crucial backbone to the system later. The IOS will show potential investors, contractors, and operating companies that HSR is real and viable. Then the project will slowly gain more confidence and private investment to start building the next section of rail.
The new blended approach is much more preferable to the previous plan that called for a full build-out. Investment in improving current transportation in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles bookends are essential not only to the full California High Speed Rail network, but for current and near-future needs. Electrifying local commuter rail Caltrain and Metrolink will bring the benefits of high speed rail without high speed rail. Thus early funding for the IOS and bookends are critical to the future full high speed rail network and near-future transportation improvements.
The cost for high speed rail and any other infrastructure improvements will only increase over time. Other first-world countries such has Germany, France, Japan, and even China, have embraced high speed rail and deem it necessary for economic development. Growing concerns over population growth and climate change provide more reason for an alternative method of transportation in California. Highway and air capacity will be reached, and high speed rail provides a cost-efficient and less environment-impacting mode of transport.
Please vote YES to approve the first $3 billion of Proposition 1a bonds to start construction of high speed rail in California, and start moving our state and our country towards the future.
Junior legislative analyst