California Forum

Skeptics may lecture, but California high-speed rail is already proving them wrong

California High-Speed Rail Authority transportation engineer Robert Campbell stands near the Cedar Viaduct under construction near Highway 99 in Fresno on Monday, July 10, 2017. A $20 billion segment between Fresno and San Jose is scheduled to open by 2025. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group/TNS)
California High-Speed Rail Authority transportation engineer Robert Campbell stands near the Cedar Viaduct under construction near Highway 99 in Fresno on Monday, July 10, 2017. A $20 billion segment between Fresno and San Jose is scheduled to open by 2025. (Gary Reyes/Bay Area News Group/TNS) TNS

All one needs to do is drive State Route 99 through the Central Valley to know that Shawn Steel’s editorial indicating that California’s high-speed rail project has “broken more promises than ground” is wrong. The nation’s first high-speed rail program has more than 119 miles under construction, and more than $3 billion invested in California’s economy.

Steel wants to lecture us on the theory of sunk cost. Our business-oriented board of directors was fully prepared to tell the governor and the Legislature not to go forward if the project didn’t make economic sense. Despite the cost increases, our assessment was that high-speed rail would still be able to operate without a subsidy and more cheaply than alternatives of more highways and airports.

High-speed rail is precisely the kind of investment that California needs to provide for a sustainable and productive economy.

Steel and others who call for government to operate more like a business ignore the fact that no business can flourish without investing for future growth. High-speed rail is precisely the kind of investment that California needs to provide for a sustainable and productive economy.

High-speed rail is already paying economic dividends through direct, indirect and induced impacts. Direct impacts include the employment of people such as Fernando Madrigal, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, who is earning $22 per hour as an apprentice electrician helping to build high-speed rail.

Indirect impacts – spending on goods and services that support direct investment – include the contract landed by Outback Materials in Fresno. Outback is providing concrete for construction, and because of that work they have expanded their business, opened a new concrete plant, and hired 25 new employees.

As high-speed rail workers and contractors such as Outback spend in the Central Valley, induced impacts further benefit the region, through secondary spending at local restaurants, grocers, retailers and so on.

High-speed rail will also help to address the state’s crippling housing crisis by connecting the Silicon Valley to the Central Valley in less than an hour. We already know that people are commuting hours to jobs in the Bay Area, and transit systems such as BART, Caltrain and ACE are seeing record levels of passengers.

The bottom line is that high-speed rail is a necessary investment in our state’s future. California is building a true state-of-the-art system. Independent peer review has repeatedly shown that the system being constructed is exactly what the voters demanded when they passed Proposition 1A.

With construction expanding and jobs being created, high-speed rail’s horizon is bright.

Dan Richard is the Chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors. Reach him at boardmembers@hsr.ca.gov.

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