Merced Paper Publishes Bob Balgenorth Column on High Speed Rail

November 15, 2011 - The Merced Sun-Star has published a column by SBCTC President Bob Balgenorth, who also serves on the High Speed Rail Authority, favoring immediately beginning construction work on the first segment of high speed rail track.  It is headlined “California can’t afford not to build high-speed rail system.”

A link to the on-line version is here:

The text of the entire column follows.

Bob Balgenorth:  California can't afford not to build high-speed rail system

California urgently needs high-speed rail now, and the recently released draft 2012 Business Plan from California High-Speed Rail Authority spells out how we can finally make this long dream a reality.

Our economy needs a more modern, efficient transportation system now.  Our environment needs cleaner modes of transportation now.  And our workers need the hundreds of thousands of good new jobs high-speed rail will bring right now.  Not in a few years -- now!

We've been talking about high-speed rail for decades, and now, finally, it is on the cusp of becoming reality.  This plan shows us how, in a credible, transparent way.

The draft Business Plan asks tough questions and answers them.  And it spells out clearly some of the tremendous economic and environmental benefits, cost savings, advances in quality of life and employment that accompany the vision of high-speed rail.

Over the life of the project, more than 1 million jobs will be created, both short-term and permanent.  About 100,000 jobs in the next five years will be in the Central Valley, an area of the state disproportionately impacted by the current economic recession.

High-speed rail will reduce traffic congestion by saving 8 billion vehicle miles traveled annually.  In fact, it will save some 146 million hours currently lost on congested highways.  Committed to running on 100 percent renewable energy, high-speed rail will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 3 million tons annually.  Again, that's particularly good news in the Central Valley, which has the dubious distinction of being home to some of the worst air quality in the nation.

Simply put, California cannot afford not to do this.  Our transportation system is already overtaxed and our population will reach 60 million people by mid-century.  High-speed rail is the only viable means of making sure our transportation infrastructure can meet our growing demand.  Continuing to build more and more freeways and airports would be more expensive, more environmentally damaging, and less efficient for moving millions more Californians up and down our state.

None of this is reinventing the wheel.  One benefit of being behind the curve relative to European and Asian countries on high speed-rail is that we can learn from their successes.  We are borrowing successful elements from Spain, France, Japan, China and other countries.  What we see from their experience is that for corridors with population centers 100 to 500 miles apart, high-speed rail is the most efficient and most preferred mode of transportation.  That is precisely the type of corridor that California's high-speed rail will serve.  California and high-speed rail are made for each other!

Otherwise, we'll need an additional 2,300 lane-miles of highway, four more major runways and an additional 115 airline gates.  Aside from the impracticality of expanding airports, the costs of these measures are prohibitively expensive.  And the costs are more than dollars:  loss in economic productivity because of lengthening commutes, a lower quality of life from hours sitting in traffic, and poorer air quality because instead of removing cars from the road, we will have added more.

Of course, although the benefits of high-speed rail are indisputable, we face major challenges. Even though the private sector will fund a large portion of this project -- including all operations, which will not be subsidized by the public sector -- we still must rely on the government's traditional role in funding most of the costs of constructing transportation infrastructure.

This draft Business Plan is very careful in its assumptions.  The plan assumes no additional federal funding before 2014.  And, though the federal government generally funds about 80 percent of many transportation investments, the first phase of this project only calls for about 61 percent federal funding.  Once we have built enough track to begin operating trains, revenues from operations will allow private capital to begin funding future construction.

We've talked long enough.  The naysayers are wrong.  We can, and must do this.  California needs the economic, environmental and quality of life benefits of high-speed rail, now.

The author is a board member of the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Senate appointee) and president of the State Building and Construction Trades Council.


Print this Page