The Central Valley Water Project implemented during the Great Recession helped lift the lot of the poor in the San Joaquin Valley by providing the means to turn fields into fertile farmland.
There are those who believe launching the California High Speed Rail will do the same thing for the San Joaquin Valley and help it shake poverty that is rooted deep especially in the valley’s southern part.
Unlike the CVP that brought construction jobs and then perpetuated generations of agricultural-related jobs ever since, high speed rail will generate mostly construction jobs and very few related to ongoing rail services.
It will do nothing more.
That is why those who pitch the high speed rail project as an economic salvation for the San Joaquin Valley are guilty of using the residents of the poorest section of the state as pawns in their public relations battle to keep the project moving forward.
Make no mistake about it. California’s future may indeed soon slip away at 220 mph.
It will cost easily $80 billion if not more to get a north-south state line in place that is needed to attract any reasonable amount of ridership.
It will also accelerate the loss of jobs for the semi-skilled among valley residents and increase the rolls of the unemployed.
There are not a large number of folks in the San Francisco Bay Area or Los Angeles clamoring to take a high speed rail train to Fresno, Bakersfield or Merced. With all due respect to the three valley cities, high speed rail never was about economic development in the southern valley. It is about moving people between state’s two major metro regions.
In doing so it may take a significant amount of traffic away from Interstate 5 and Highway 99. Those are travelers who - surprise - often spend money at valley restaurants, hotels, gas stations, and such. They won’t be doing so when they zip through at 220 mph.
It also will significantly reduce the future bonding capacity of the state. That means there will be less money available for other infrastructure. Rest assured that as the tighter state bonding capacity becomes, that the southern part of the San Joaquin Valley will come out on the short end of the stick.
Bullet trains around the globe benefit primarily by heavy commuter ridership and certainly not pleasure riders. There is no major commute between Bakersfield and Fresno. Nor is there a major commute from the southern valley to Los Angeles or Merced to the Bay Area.
And it is doubtful the new and improved business plan that will reflect higher ticket rates coming out next month can argue successfully that it will be able to take the lion’s share of the air corridor traffic between the Bay Area and the LA Basin.
In short, high speed rail trains serving key east-west corridors such as LA to Riverside/San Bernardino counties and the Bay Area to the Northern San Joaquin Valley would have a much better chance of generating the daily ridership needed to make them semi-economically feasible.
The high speed rail project as it is now constituted has a real good chance of becoming an albatross around California’s collective economic neck.
The project was deliberately under priced while it was being oversold to California voters.
It is time for someone in Sacramento to have the political courage to push for a ballot initiative to repeal the bond approval.
If not, we’ll all be riding a train of debt.
But at least we’ll get to the poor house faster.