Public deserves new vote on high speed rail
One thing is clear about California’s proposed bullet train: If the project is ever built, it won’t look much like what voters approved in 2008, when they OK’d almost $10 billion worth of bonds to help pay for it.
That makes this system a classic consumer bait-and-switch, which makes it a political necessity for Gov. Jerry Brown and other state officials to put the whole idea before the voters one more time. If it’s certain that voters won’t get what was sold to them, the government should give the electorate another chance to bless or nix the altered plan.
The main proponents of a re-vote are Republican legislators, with state Sen. Doug LaMalfa leading the way.
LaMalfa says voters were “deceived” in 2008, but he’s unlikely to get anywhere, in part because Republicans have been such adamant obstructionists to almost all new ideas from Democrats that they can’t expect cooperation from the majority party even when they deserve it.
Some of the changes in the high speed rail plan are the price (almost three times higher at $98 billion), the speed (mostly much slower than the promised 220 mph), time of completion (2033, instead of 2020) and the type of track in urban areas.
And the new business plan doesn’t even discuss the most obviously needed change: A route switch up the San Joaquin Valley away from prime farmland and the cities of Fresno, Bakersfield, Madera and Merced to the Interstate 5 right of way that is already state-owned. There would be much less land to purchase, far fewer citizen protests and lawsuits and no unrealistic expectations for hordes of passengers boarding between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Nor did it mention the possibility of using newer, cheaper, more efficient technologies like Maglev tracking.
Even without these potentially vast improvements in the plan, though, there still are good arguments for going ahead with it.
For one thing, high speed rail could relieve a lot of the need for new freeway and airport construction. For another, this project would create at least tens of thousands of new jobs, although far fewer then the HSR Authority’s claims of at least 100,000 jobs.
A third positive would be creation of a viable transportation alternative to driving long distances on some of the state’s busiest highways or coping with airport parking, crowds, security and waits. And fourth, about 3 billion federal dollars are already committed to this project; if it’s not built, the jobs and other benefits would disappear.
So California really does face a tough choice. Should it proceed with a project about which the highest state officials lied during the Schwarzenegger administration?
Should it risk building a partial system, as now called for by the HSR Authority, in the hopes that this will attract private investment?
Or should the state abandon something that would put it close to a transportation par with countries in Europe, Japan and China?
Because there are valid points on both sides, it should be up to the public to decide.