The high-speed rail debate may begin and end with the price tag: $98.5 billion. But there’s another fundamental problem with the plan. It doesn’t fit California or Californians.
And to say it doesn’t fit the state is to say this also: the high-speed rail plan treats California as if it’s one state.
It isn’t. California is a country-sized place made up of regions that have the size and character of states.
A big infrastructure challenge for the state is that neighboring regions – California’s real states – don’t have high-speed connections between different parts of the regions, and between neighboring regions.
If high-speed rail is to have a future, it needs to solve these sorts of problems. Can it create fast connections between LA and Riverside and Indian Wells? Between San Francisco and San Jose and Santa Cruz? Between Santa Ana and San Diego?
Instead, the current plan is about getting us from LA to the Bay Area – a trip that we can already make, via Southwest Airlines, just as cheaply, and more quickly, than high-speed rail can promise.
As an Angeleno, my problem isn’t getting to San Francisco in an hour. My problem is that it can take me two hours to get to a meeting in San Bernardino or three hours, if I’m lucky, to San Diego. A high-speed rail system that could cut those times in half – or better—would have a huge market.
A viable high-speed rail network might not even connect north and south. It might instead be two triangles. One could connect San Francisco with Monterey (via San Jose) and Sacramento. Another would link LA, the Inland Empire and San Diego.
Those kinds of routes would replace commutes and knit together regional economies that have things in common (unlike, say the economies of Anaheim and the San Joaquin Valley, which Californians would pay a high price to link in the current plan, for no apparent reason).
And yes, that leaves out big parts of the state. Well, so does the first phase of the current plan – which for nearly $100 billion can’t get anyone to the state’s second largest city (San Diego) or the state capital.