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High Speed Rail For California…only a Matter of Time.

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While we at the California High-Speed Rail Authority don’t second-guess the will of the voters the way Jon Coupal seems to – instead we make it our mission to carry out the will of the voters – we actually agree with the position of the taxpayer advocate who doesn’t want a single cent of the taxpayers’ dollars wasted. We want to ensure that the $9 billion voters decided to put toward the construction of a high-speed rail system is not wasted and is used to its fullest effect. And in fact we have a plan to grow that $9 billion into the $42.6 billion needed to construct the project.


So, in that light, let us run through a number of reasons we think taxpayers would be pleased at the approach taken by the High-Speed Rail Authority.


First, investment in infrastructure is good for our economy. Without a doubt, putting money into brick-and-mortar construction creates jobs and spurs economic stimulus. In the case the of the high-speed train project, a conservative estimate shows we’d create 600,000 construction related job-years over the life of the project’s construction and 450,000 permanent jobs thereafter. The benefits of $43 billion pumped into our economy cannot be overstated.


Which brings me to the second point: it should be noted that California will put up only 25 percent of the cost of this project, but will reap 100 percent of the benefits. One hundred percent of the jobs, 100 percent of the assets, 100 percent of the environmental benefits will be in California, despite the state having put up only 25 percent of the capital. Any business person or taxpayer advocate would say this is a good deal for the state.


Third, our state needs additional modes of transportation to maintain our economy. It’s vital to our continued economic strength, and in order to keep our economy humming over the next two decades as our state’s population swells by a third to 50 million residents, we must be able to move goods and people throughout the state more efficiently than we are able to today. That means more roads, or it means more airports, or it means alternative modes of transportation. High-speed rail is the most cost-effective mode of transportation to construct and maintain, and it will carry enough people such that it will reduce the need to add lane-miles to freeways or departure gates and runways to airports.


Here’s something else that we know Jon Coupal would be laudatory of: the high-speed rail project’s business plan calls for a reliance on contractors, rather than on state public employees. Now, that makes good sense for our project, as it will move through several phases that require expertise in certain areas only for a finite period of time; it makes more sense to hire environmental planners only for the environmental planning phase rather than bringing them on as state staff and then being forced to find work for them after the environmental planning for the project is complete, for example. But it also means the state is getting a better bargain for its dollar. Contract language and risk management mechanisms ensure that taxpayers are getting what they asked for, on schedule, and for a better deal than if the state itself was managing the project.


Lastly, unlike highways or airport runways or any other mode of transportation, the high-speed rail system will pay for itself and require no government subsidy for its operation. Whether that means a ticket to ride it from San Francisco to Los Angeles will cost $50 or $150, we’ve shown that the system will produce a profit. The actual price of a ticket won’t be decided for several years (heck! we don’t even have a single shovel in the ground yet, much less a ticketing operation!) but under a number of scenarios we can see that the system will generate revenue, just as high-speed rail systems do around the world. We can’t understand why the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association wouldn’t be applauding that.


What’s more – and contrary to Jon Coupal’s assertion – tremendous momentum is building for high-speed rail in California. Voters last November said yes to high-speed rail, then two months later we got a president who strongly supports high-speed rail to the degree he included $8 billion for its development in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and advocated for a continuing appropriation for its construction. Congress has put its support behind high-speed rail construction. Private companies and other countries that have high-speed rail have been beating down California’s door to be part of our project – because they know it will be successful and they know it will generate revenue.


At the High-Speed Rail Authority, we’re keeping our sights focused on carrying out the will of the voters of California – and that means creating jobs and improving our state by responsibly and transparently building a desperately needed transportation alternative.

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