The High Speed Rail project found its way into three of the five panels in the Public Policy Institute’s all-day State of Change conference Wednesday. At the end of the day, you understood the High Speed Rail authority’s strategy to gain support for the project – START to build it and they will come!
In an opening discussion, Nancy McFadden, Executive Secretary to Governor Jerry Brown, said that the need for High Speed Rail is more important now than when voters initially passed the bond in 2008 moving the project forward. She cited the governor’s pledge to reduce carbon emissions and the need to move people around the state that will have 50 million residents by 2025.
Acknowledging but brushing aside obstacles facing the bullet train she said litigation was going well, the Federal government came through with money and the legislature approved cap-and-trade funds to get the project started.
However, this funding is not nearly enough. It appears that Republicans controlling Congress have no interest in continuing funding for the train. No private investors have stepped up to take up a share of the costs promised voters when the High Speed Rail bond was on the ballot. While the cap-and-trade funds are a steady revenue source that can be leveraged with borrowing, there is still a big funding gap for the project.
Jeff Morales, chief executive officer of the High Speed Rail project, argued in a later panel that the funding would arrive. He said the message from the High Speed Rail authority to Washington is “leave us alone” for two years. In other words, the project has the resources to get the project started and then he expects Washington would get on board once they see progress.
Clearly, advocates for the project believe that once the project is started there will be no stopping it.
McFadden said when people see the project is being built they will support it. Morales called the project an investment in both California and its people. He noted that 30-percent of the contracts will go to small businesses in the area and that in a few years, “Everyone in the Valley will know someone involved in the program.”
He said that regional chambers of commerce and all large city mayors supported the project.
Morales argued that the two tracks being constructed would substitute for 2500 of highway lane miles that would be needed to transport people around the state in the future. But that assumes the predictions on ridership are accurate. Experts have questioned not only the ridership projections, but also the projected ticket costs per rider and the speed in which the rail authority says it will take the bullet train to cover the distance between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Assemblyman Rocky Chavez offered a different perspective on the train in a third panel discussion. He said the train was actually in your garage. Advancing technology will see electric, driverless cars running on the roads moving along together like a train, he said. Referring to the building of the High Speed Rail, he added, ‘and you don’t need to rip up farmland.’
Train advocates are not about to wait for that future. Not when the strategy appears to be start putting down the track and see if anyone can stop them.