High Speed Rail as “California’s Sputnik Moment”
Redwood City councilmember and head of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association (SAMCEDA) Rosanne Foust has an excellent op-ed in Redwood City Patch this week calling support for high speed rail “California’s Sputnik moment,” a reference to President Barack Obama’s pro-HSR State of the Union address:
Here in the Bay Area, we’re having our own Sputnik moment on the California high-speed rail project. Since the Authority Board voted in December to begin construction of the system connecting Los Angeles to the Bay Area in the Central Valley, we’ve seen the departure of the lead engineer for the Peninsula Rail Program, the release date of the draft environmental impact report delayed, and stood on the sidelines watching commitments of state and federal funds head to Los Angeles and the Central Valley. In short, we’re getting beat.
If the Bay Area is to maintain its economic standing in a globally competitive world, we must regroup. To build a statewide system of high-speed rail connecting major metropolitan cities in California will require our region to redouble its efforts to earn the continued support of local, state and federal decision-makers and elected officials and the public at large.
Foust is making some very strong points here. High speed rail is indeed essential to maintaining global competitiveness. Metropolitan regions that enable cheap, sustainable transportation will have an edge over those that waste money on oil-based methods of travel. And as congestion increases on freeways, no amount of hybrid or electric vehicle innovation can overcome the far more cost-effective electric trains.
Some might argue that Foust is merely making a claim to economic benefits for HSR because she supports the project. But it seems likely that it’s the other way around – she supports the project because of its economic benefits.
Foust goes on to detail the economic benefits of HSR to San Mateo County – and then explains what she believes should be done to bring that about:
The Authority needs to finish and release the draft environmental impact report on the San Francisco to San Jose corridor but first taking the extra time to examine more closely trenching and other alternatives important to communities along the route, including the planning, design and construction of improvements to Caltrain on the corridor that will accommodate and serve both the near-term and long-term needs of the Authority and Caltrain for inter-city high speed rail service.
We can work more diligently towards the principles of sustainable growth and preservation of community character as we forge a path for California’s future. The Authority needs to continue to engage the public to craft a vision for our corridor.
It sounds like Foust believes, as many HSR supporters do – including Californians For High Speed Rail – that both the Authority and the community need to come together to look at all the options. I would add that they need to do so in a constructive spirit, and be mindful of the financial constraints on the project. I’ve never opposed trenching or tunneling, but we have to keep in mind that, as was brought home on Saturday at the Friends of Caltrain event, there isn’t exactly a lot of money lying around to build stuff. Just as the Caltrain event was dedicated to finding a funding source to keep the trains running, so too should any collaborative effort on the Peninsula include an effort to fund the construction of the desired infrastructure.
Foust’s op-ed is a good reminder that the discussion over HSR isn’t just about trenches, tunnels, and viaducts. It’s about San Mateo County and the rest of California being able to maintain its prosperity in the 21st century.