The system of high speed trains approved by California voters in 2008 is closer to becoming a reality since the California State Senate approved a bill on July 6th to invest $8 billion into the High Speed Rail (HSR) system.
The timing of the vote was critical as it qualified the project for an additional $3.2 billion in federal funds for the initial phase of construction. The Senate voted 21-16 in favor of the allocation one day after the Assembly voted the same way by a 51-27 margin. Every Republican in both houses opposed the job-creating measure, however.
According to Dan Richard, Chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority:
“Not only will California be the first state in the nation to build a high-speed rail system to connect our urban centers, we will also modernize and improve rail systems at the local and regional level. This plan will improve mobility for commuters and travelers alike, reduce emissions, and put thousands of people to work while enhancing our economic competitiveness.”
The four years since original approval have proven rocky for California HSR. Republicans and Democrats have bickered over the $68 billion price tag for the project which is aimed at giving more Californians state-of-the-art transportation while helping to curb traffic and pollution statewide. One million new jobs are projected by the project’s completion in 2028.
Daniel Krause, Executive Director of Californians For High-Speed Rail, voiced strong support for the project in a Ventura County Star op-ed:
Investments in high-speed rail, both in the Central Valley and at the urban bookends, will pump more than $8 billion into California’s economy, creating thousands of direct and indirect jobs. Over the next few years, at a time when we must kick our economy back into gear, the increased tax revenues generated from these jobs will more than offset debt servicing costs.
In the long term, high-speed rail will help usher a much more efficient transportation system, which is a key component to sustained economic prosperity. Continued gridlock, coupled with volatile oil prices, hurts California businesses in the worst way…
Cost is not the only aspect being targeted by opponents of HSR. The state’s reliance on Parsons Brinckerhoff, a New York City engineering and construction firm, is also at issue. A French bullet train developer, SNCF, offered to assist California via state-assisted competitive bidding, but they were rebuffed. Questions remain about Parsons Brinckerhoff’s experience:
“It’s like California is trying to design and build a Boeing 747 instead of going out and buying one,” said Dan McNamara, a civil engineer who worked for SNCF’s U.S. affiliate. “There are lots of questions about the Parsons Brinckerhoff plan. The capital costs are way too high, and the route has been politically gerrymandered.”
The first leg of the project would cut the 130-mile, three hour trip from Bakersfield to Madera to less than an hour, connecting to and modernizing current transportation systems along the way. Many proponents compare the state’s investment in HSR to the investment made in water infrastructure by the state in the 1950’s. Though expensive at the time, that project has proven invaluable to Californians in the long run.
Ray LaHood, Secretary of the US Department of Transportation, talked about how HSR will help the state meet its growing population’s needs while promoting clean energy jobs:
“California’s population will grow by 60 percent over the next 40 years. Investing in a green job creating high-speed rail network is less expensive and more practical than paying for all of the expansions to already congested highways and airports that would be necessary to accommodate the state’s projected population boom…”
According to a press release from the California Building and Construction Trades Council, every $1 billion invested in infrastructure produces a $1.5 billion effect in gross domestic product. The same investment also produces 15,000 to 20,000 new jobs, which means “upwards of 100,000 construction jobs are coming” from this first $8 billion alone.