High-Speed Rail Will Restore California’s “Pioneering Spirit”
By Bob Balgenorth
State Building and Construction Trades Council
“This project,” the New York Times recently reported on California’s High-Speed Rail plan, “goes to the heart of the state’s pioneering spirit, recalling grand public investments in universities, water systems, roads and parks that once defined California as the leading edge of the nation."
Then, after explaining all the benefits of better transportation, a stronger economy, a boom in employment, a cleaner environment and a higher quality of life, the Times summarized the simplistic opposition of a Republican politician who said: “It’s a boondoggle.”
There, in a nutshell, is our fight.
California urgently needs high-speed rail now, and the new draft 2012 Business Plan spells out how we can finally make this long dream a reality. Our economy needs a more modern, efficient transportation system now. Our environment needs cleaner modes of transportation now. And our workers need the hundreds of thousands of good new jobs high-speed rail will bring right now. Not in a few years, now.
Meanwhile, opponents keep on parroting their party line: “It’s a boondoggle.”
Really? Over the life of the project, more than 1 million jobs will be created, both short-term and permanent. High-speed rail will reduce traffic congestion by saving 8 billion vehicle miles traveled annually. In fact, it will save some 146 million hours currently lost on congested highways. Committed to running on 100 percent renewable energy, high-speed rail will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 3 million tons annually.
Simply put, California cannot afford not to do this. Our transportation system is already overtaxed and our population will reach 60 million people by mid-century. High-speed rail is the only viable means of making sure our transportation infrastructure can meet our growing demand. Continuing to build more and more freeways and airports would be more expensive, more environmentally damaging, and less efficient for moving millions more Californians up and down our state.
To which our opponents robotically respond: “It’s a boondoggle.”
Apparently they don’t know or don’t care about the benefits of high-speed rail in places like France, Spain, and Japan, where, for corridors with population centers 100-to-500 miles apart, high-speed rail is the most efficient and most preferred mode of transportation. That is precisely the type of corridor that California’s high- speed rail will serve. California and high-speed rail are made for each other!
Without it, we’ll need an additional 2,300 lane-miles of highway, four more major runways and an additional 115 airline gates. Aside from the impracticality of expanding airports, the costs of these measures are prohibitively expensive. And the costs are more than dollars: loss in economic productivity due to lengthening commutes, a lower quality of life from hours sitting in traffic, and poorer air quality because instead of removing cars from the road, we will have added more.
To which, once again, the nay-sayers repeat: “It’s a boondoggle.”
The reality is that the new Business Plan is very careful in its assumptions. The Plan assumes no additional federal funding before 2014. And, though the federal government generally funds about 80 percent of many transportation investments, the first phase of this project only calls for about 61 percent federal funding. Once we have built enough track to begin operating trains, revenues from operations will allow private capital to begin funding future construction.
Hearings are underway in the state Capitol and around the state right now that will lead to the final decision to start building high-speed rail in 2012, restoring California’s great “pioneering spirit” of past generations.
Unless the nay-sayers carry the day with their one buzzword argument: “It’s a boondoggle."
We can’t let that dumb message prevail. So let’s spread the word, to our friends, colleagues, and elected officials. We’ve talked long enough. The “boondoggle” robots are wrong. We can, and must do this. California needs the economic, environmental, and quality of life benefits of high-speed rail, now.
Bob Balgenorth is the president of the California State Building and Construction Trades Council, which represents approximately 350,000 workers in 186 private sector building trades local unions and regional councils.