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Election 2008

Dana Gabbard: Yes on High Speed Rail


(As we've already seen today with Measure R, the campaign for and against Proposition 1A, a bonding measure to pay for High Speed Rail, is also heating up as the weather cools down.  Today, the Times profiled the efforts to support and oppose the ballot prop.  Speaking for those in favor, Dana Gabbard writes below some of the many reasons that Californians should support High Speed Rail in a couple of weeks.)

While attending a stakeholders meeting for one of Metro's long range
plans about a decade ago I was listening to the comments of
someone from the League of Women Voters discussing our challenges in
dealing with traffic 15-20 years from now. And it struck me that she
was assuming that most people would still be getting around in
automobiles. And I had a sudden epiphany, one of those rare nuggets of
insight that help shape my approach to advocacy. What I realized is
often the great challenge new ideas face isn't facts or cost but
dealing with perceptions and assumptions. This comes to mind as I
recall a conversation I had a few years later with a reporter from the
business section of the Los Angeles Times. Somehow the subject turned
to the proposal for a statewide bullet train network. She stated "Dana,
I just don't see it". I believe the main challenge the high speed rail
faces isn't feasibility--the technology is well established with a
sterling safety record (the only major high speed train accident
occurred in Germany in 1998)--but the changes implicit in its creation
which challenges people's conception of our state. But if it makes
sense than while it will be a dauntingly expensive project and on a
scale akin to the building of the state aqueduct, it really comes down
to priorities and a matter of will, if we desire to have it.

In my recent commentary on Measure R I wrote about its path to the ballot being like a soap opera.

But it has nothing on the proposed bullet train which literally has been 15+ years in the making. It was in 1993
that an Intercity High-Speed Rail Commission was established to study
the feasibility and advisability of a high speed network. After the
Commission concluded that such a system was worth pursuing the California
High-Speed Rail Authority was established in 1996 to begin planning it.
In 2002 after extreme exertions State Senator Jim Costa was able to
have placed on the ballot $10 billion of bonds as a down payment for a
bullet train network. Slated to be voted on in 2004 the vicissitudes of
politics caused the measure to be bumped twice before the body politic
decided this was the year it deserved its shot. And like Measure R this
is a do or die situation--if the program doesn't go forward soon
environmental documents are in danger of starting to expire and needing
redone. Plus development imperils necessary right of way acquisition in
the Central Valley. If the bonds fail by all accounts the Authority
will fold its tent and it could easily be 50 years before another
effort for a high speed train may be undertaken. 

The interesting thing to me is for years I have been taking outreach
materials on the bullet train concept to share with the public
when Southern California Transit Advocates has booths at transportation
related events. And the response is almost uniformly positive. Often
people ask "Why isn't it already under way?" One problem has been the
highest level of support has not been the folks at the end points but
among those in the middle. Residents of the Central Valley have to
drive long distances to get much of anywhere--even to fly cross
country. And what little air service they have is disproportionately
overpriced. While the focus has been how the train would connect L.A.
to the Bay Area many of the folks who would flock to ride it would be
traveling from Bakersfield to Fresno or Tulare to Modesto. But of
course these are not the folks with the most clout in state politics;
meanwhile over the years the Bay Area was mostly consumed in squabbles
over routing while Southern California was distracted by SCAG and its
ridiculous (and thankfully now fast vanishing) Maglev proposal. Because
the bonds kept being deferred from being voted on many--in the
financial community and elected officials--questioned whether the state
was serious about this effort. The passage of the bonds would change
everything--Wall Street and electeds would finally realize this is not
a pipedream (or a Buck Rogers fantasy, in the infamous phrasing of
former Governor Gray Davis). 

You may be shocked to learn I have just two chief reason why I think we
should pass the bonds. The first was made all the way back in 1996 by
the Commission in its Final Report: given the unlikelihood of our major
airports being expanded it would make sense to shift intra-state travel
to high speed rail while having air space mostly reserved for long
distance travel. Certainly in the intervening 12 years the tensions
between the major airports (LAX, John Wayne, SFO, Oakland, San Jose,
Lindberg) and their surrounding communities over expansion etc, have
become if anything more heated. In this context high speed rail has a
logical and prudent role in our state's transportation network.

The other reason was first stated by former state librarian Kevin Starr
in an interview two years ago in CityBeat L.A.: that building a bullet
train would help unite Southern California and Northern California.
Much too much of our state's culture and politics has been dominated by
the north/south divide. Investing billions so our residents think of
themselves as Californians not simply residents of whatever enclave or
region they inhabit would be money well spent. Sometimes the most
powerful idea is the simplest, most straight forward one.

can do it. It makes sense. And once again, as our state has been so
often in the past, we'll be pioneers leading the way for the rest of
the county. The bullet train partakes of the very spirit that created
and built this state. We don't think little. And we have the confidence
to do what others would believe impossible. Vote for Proposition 1A,
and for a renewal of the spirit that has made our state great in the
past and can make it great again. Or as the Romans put it: Fortes
fortuna adiuvat (translation: fortune favors the bold).

Image: Pacifica Radio

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