RICHARDS: High-speed rail will give a boost to California

June 27, 2013 

By the end of this summer, the High-Speed Rail Authority will turn the first shovel to start California and the United States on a road of recovery — a recovery that will revive and maintain our position as a premium player in the world economy.

Dan Richard, chairman, and board members of the California High-Speed Rail Authority have compiled and published a statement that thoroughly describes the planning, design, funding and building of a futuristic transportation system that will rival and surpass any network in the world.

The system, designed to connect Bay Area cities to the Los Angeles Basin (and later to San Diego), will fuse a dozen local transportation units, all of which will be upgraded to top standards. Almost $2 billion of the funds approved by the electorate in Proposition 1A are earmarked for local connectivity to implement a blended rail system. Close to home, it will include Altamont Commuter Express and North California Unified Services.

The High-Speed Rail business plan, put together in 2012, has been honed to a fine edge. It accommodates the myriad problems raised previously. Lawsuits have been settled, regional issues addressed and provisions made ensuring that local businesses will provide no less than 30 percent of the construction. Building and operating the high-speed rail system will directly employ tens of thousands of Californians. It will indirectly generate tens of thousands more jobs throughout the country.

China, our closest economic competitor, has 5,800 miles of high-speed rail in operation and more under construction. Japan has had high-speed rail for more than 40 years and has tested trains traveling up to 381 mph. Our late entry into the field has given us the advantage of being able to tap into the latest technology available.

California is a unique entity, blessed with a good climate, beautiful scenery and a magnificent coastline. We have top technology, huge manufacturing and abundant agriculture. Forty million people produce an annual gross domestic product of $2 trillion. Tying all of this together are 33 million motor vehicles vying for space and air. The downside: According to a 2009 UC Berkeley study, "People living in … California's Central Valley have a 25 to 30 percent greater annual risk of dying from respiratory diseases" than people who live in coastal areas.

For whatever reason, Jeff Denham, the only California representative on the influential Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, is highly critical of any expenditure of federal funds for this project. He is on record as saying that he believes that the $6 billion allotted to the California Authority (and the jobs that go with it) could be better spent on upgrades to the Northeast Corridor (Boston to Washington.)

The $5 billion injection into Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Merced and Fresno counties will do wonders for the valley economy. It's an injection that we need even more than the Northeast Corridor.

In Stanislaus County, $6 billion is a lot of money; but in Washington, it's chump change. Take it out of the Defense Department's F-35 petty cash drawer. (In 13 years and $300 billion, the F-35 is not yet operational.)

Both rail plans are doable; it is time for Denham to come home to roost.

Richards retired after 38 years as a commercial aviator. He was a visiting editor with The Bee in 2011. Send questions or comments to columns@modbee.com.

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