Earlier this month, the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 1029, authorizing the issuance of $2.7 billion in state bonds to begin construction of the nation’s largest transportation project — California high-speed rail — as well as authorizing an additional $2 billion in bonds to match local and federal funds for related projects. This bold legislative action unlocks $3.2 billion in matching federal high-speed rail dollars, creates thousands of jobs and ushers in a new era of mobility for California.
At a time when statewide unemployment continues to linger at 11 percent, high-speed rail is the right plan for California. The revised business plan to build the system will create immediate jobs in an area where they are needed most. Construction of the first segment of the train in the Central Valley is projected to generate the equivalent of 20,000 full-time jobs annually. Building the segment of the system from the Bay Area to Southern California will create an estimated 66,000 jobs annually and directly employ 2,900 people.
The blended approach to building the system, which leverages existing track on the Peninsula and in the Los Angeles Basin, is not only the most cost-effective plan; it provides much-needed investment in existing urban rail systems that will ultimately connect with high-speed rail. In the Bay Area, these investments include: $600 million for Caltrain electrification, $61 million for Muni’s Central Subway extension and $140 million to help replace aging BART cars.
Critics of high-speed rail are concerned with the cost of building the first-in-the-nation system. But the argument that school funding would suffer because of high-speed rail bond payments is a bit of a stretch. Bonds will be issued over many years, the project doesn’t impact the current fiscal year, and as the economy grows, reserves will grow to pay for the state’s incremental growth in debt service.
California simply can’t afford not to build high-speed rail. Over the next two decades, the state’s population is expected to grow by more than 10 million people. By the year 2050, the population could reach 60 million. To accommodate this level of growth, California would need to build an estimated 2,300 miles of new highways, 115 new airport gates and four new runways — all at a combined cost of $170 billion. That’s more than $100 billion more than building high-speed rail.
The Chamber of Commerce is a firm advocate for fiscal prudence and government efficiency. We take very seriously any proposal that unnecessarily raises taxes and expense for local businesses and residents. When it comes to high-speed rail, our chamber is proud to be a leading champion. We were one of the first chambers of commerce to support the initiative. We actively supported Proposition 1A, which the voters approved in 2010.
We worked hard to ensure the passage of SB 1029. And as opponents file lawsuits and engage in efforts to derail the project, we will continue to make advancing high-speed rail a priority.
California high-speed rail is the right plan at the right time. The chamber applauds Gov. Jerry Brown, Assembly Speaker John Perez and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg for their commitment to our state’s future and for their tireless efforts to pass SB 1029 — an action that will have lasting economic, environmental and mobility benefits for California.
Steve Falk is president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce.