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High speed rail is permanent job killer for Southern San Joaquin Valley
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There is something deliciously ironic about the first operable segment of high speed rail in California being between Fresno and Bakersfield.

Arguments – and they are certainly legitimate - about funding and viability in terms of actual ticket costs aside – you’ve got to admit the Southern San Joaquin Valley being at the forefront of high tech rail transportation in California is interesting to say the least.

It is 110 miles between the two cities or two hours assuming anyone goes as slow as the legal speed limit on Highway 99. High speed rail will cut the trip down to 37 minutes.

The $4.75 billion – mostly federal money and very little from the $10 billion bond approved by California voters for state rail – will go to build what will be an initial 120-mile segment of the 520-mile route being pursued between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Target completion of the first segment is 2017. It surely will spur Tonight Show style jokes about why people would want to travel as fast as possible between the two cities.

Financing and fiscal viability issues aside there is a real misnomer being spouted by leaders in the Southern San Joaquin Valley that high speed rail will somehow be a catalyst to help end poverty in the region.

A 2005 federal study by the Congressional Research Service indicated the San Joaquin Valley is the new Appalachia. The 365-page study pointed out poverty is high, education is low, and social needs are overwhelming. The SJ Valley in some respects is worse off. One example is the per capita income that is lower in the SJ Valley’s eight counties than in the 68-county Central Appalachia region.

Remember the Tennessee Valley Authority? It was massive Depression era public works project pushed by President Franklin Roosevelt as a powerful catalyst of change for the Appalachia region. It helped but the real benefactors were other regions that benefited from cheapo federal power. There are those who have questioned whether the TVA was the panacea that many contended at the time.

What you are hearing in many SJ Valley areas – particularly the southern part of the valley – is how the high speed rail will be an economic boom for the region.

At least when people traveling between San Francisco and Los Angeles today by car they stop at service stations or restaurants and drop some cash to help support local jobs. Just how high speed rail itself will generate permanent jobs is an amazing snow job.

Yes, there will be engineers and maintenance workers needed for the trains. But just how are there jobs being generated in Bakersfield or Fresno unless - and this is a possibility  - people who work in LA with high dollar jobs for some reason opt to live in Fresno and Bakersfield.

That sounds good as it would generate bigger demand for local retail and service jobs not to mention housing but at the same time it is counterproductive.

A solid reason for supporting high speed rail – cleaner air – almost goes out the window. A trip between Bakersfield and Fresno by car creates an estimated 84.75 pounds of carbon dioxide according to the high speed rail website. If people actually start living in Fresno and Bakersfield to take advantage of cheap housing and commute to LA by high speed rail they will be creating significantly more car trips when at home in Fresno and Bakersfield.

It is doubtful new industries will locate in either city because of high speed rail. The region already has a cheap labor pool and that isn’t doing anything out of the ordinary to attract employers especially in the southern part of the valley.

The primary industry of the region is agriculture. Travel between Bakersfield and Fresno, though, by those in farm support industries won’t be by high speed rail. That’s because most business contacts are done on the farm and not in the urban settings of Fresno and Bakersfield.

High speed rail may indeed reduce air pollution and serve as an effective way to reduce travel time and congestion for those going between major population centers in San Jose, San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento. And yes some may indeed stop in Stockton, Modesto, Merced, Hanford and Bakersfield or hop on the train in those communities to reach the other urban centers served by the line.

But in terms of it being a lasting economic boom for the valley if it successfully reduces road traffic, get real. If anything it will kill highway travel service related jobs.