Democrats and Republicans finally agree on something in California: Kill high speed rail.
Or at the very least a plurality of folks who identify with both political parties want a revote of the 2008 ballot box decision to float $9.9 billion for bullet trains. The Field Poll this past week showed 64 percent of Californians want the legislature to put the issue back before voters.
Gee, how can that be?
Perhaps it has something to do with the completely half-baked cost figures high speed rail boosters came up with in their bid to sell voters on the need to pass bonds. In just two years, the estimated cost has almost doubled to $100 million.
It might have something to do with at least one San Joaquin Valley county suing to block the project that promises to devastate a vast swath of the state’s dwindling prime farmland.
It could be caused by reports that show a tunnel for the high speed train through San Jose is impractical.
It might be warnings from the state’s top budget analyst that suggest that pursing high speed rail construction could squander $6 billion at the expense of social services, education, and other transportation projects and that funding sources beyond what is in hand are “highly speculative.”
It might be concern that the rush to get a segment built in the middle of nowhere while concerns about routes in heavily populated areas are far from being settled may leave the state with a $17 billion white elephant rail line or - to put a better spin on it - high speed rail from Bakersfield to Fresno.
And it could be questions being raised about whether enough people will ride the bullet trains to make them pay for their day-to-day operations.
Other than that, what’s not to like about high speed rail?
The problem isn’t high speed rail per se as much as how it is being approached.
There is not a compelling reason to spend that kind of money to put in place a north-south bullet train to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles. That corridor is one of the two top well-served routes for air travel.
What makes much more sense is investing in high speed rail to address the daily commutes from east to west from the Inland Empire to the Los Angeles Basin and the Northern San Joaquin Valley/Sacramento to the Bay Area. The prospects for heavy use are higher, as are the odds of significantly reducing air pollution and congestion.
Those traveling north-south aren’t typically commuters. They will still need vehicles to get around once they arrive, especially in the Los Angeles Basin.
Why not tell the high speed rail boosters to get off their high horse, and stop catering to the elitists who wing it from Los Angeles and the Bay Area on a frequent basis, or the politicians from the Southland who find taking planes to go back and forth from their districts to the Capitol a miserable experience?
High speed rail would be much more palatable if was developed as a true commuter line that would actually address the real commute problem routes in California.
Anyone running for an office in the legislature in November 2012 should be forced to say publically where they stand on allowing the people to have a revote on high speed rail.
This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.