California high-speed rail was given a strong vote of confidence last month when Gov. Jerry Brown and the California Legislature passed a prudent budget for the state, which includes the establishment of a reliable funding source for this critically important transportation project.
The Chamber of Commerce, an early supporter of high-speed rail, applauds the governor and state lawmakers for wisely investing in California's future by ensuring that 25 percent of all cap-and-trade revenue -- an amount forecasted to reach as much as $3 billion to $5 billion in the coming years -- is directed toward high-speed rail. This funding mechanism, which recognizes the positive impacts the project will have on greenhouse-gas emission reduction, will deliver $250 million to the high-speed rail system this year and is expected to jump-start construction on new parts of the project.
While this funding source represents meaningful progress for the high-speed rail project, one that promises to meet our state's growing transportation needs while enhancing Bay Area mobility vital to ensuring livable communities, productivity, commerce and a clean environment, it is crucial to build on this positive momentum. Partisan opposition and a small but loud band of critics of the voter-approved rail system should not be allowed to keep California's transportation infrastructure firmly rooted in the past.
With a $68 billion price tag, we've long recognized that the California high-speed rail system isn't inexpensive. But we wouldn't expect any transportation infrastructure project of the magnitude necessary to meet the needs of the nation's most populous state to be cheap. So, while that's certainly a big number to digest, this cost must be measured against the alternative of creating the equivalent capacity within our existing highway and airport transportation infrastructure. To achieve the same level of mobility delivered by the high-speed rail system, with a population expected to soar to 50 million people over the next 15 years, California would need to spend upwards of $170 billion -- over $100 billion more than building high-speed rail. And that assumes the public would support huge highway expansions in the Central Valley and new airport runways in Los Angeles and the Bay Area.
California voters have spoken: Connect our state with the nation's first high-speed rail system. The California High-Speed Rail Authority responded and is now implementing a plan that will bring our transportation system into the 21st century, generating jobs and economic activity while reducing traffic and pollution. And thanks to the vision of Gov. Brown and the Legislature, a long-term funding source is in place. With planning and construction underway, now is the time to get onboard with the high-speed rail project and do all that we can to ensure it gets built.
Bob Linscheid is president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.