Central Valley Republicans Want to Take HSR Money to Widen Freeways
Of all the bad ideas I’ve heard, this is one of the worst:
A new threat to California’s bullet train plans surfaced Thursday as lawmakers including Congressman Kevin McCarthy introduced legislation that seeks to take away more than $2 billion in federal stimulus money set aside for the project and spend it making repairs to Highway 99….
A press release posted on the website of Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, announcing the legislation said that redirecting the stimulus money to establish a six-lane freeway from Bakersfield to Sacramento would improve the corridor’s safety and enhance the region’s air quality.
Guess what does a better job of enhancing the region’s air quality? Electric trains. Guess what does a better job of improving corridor safety? Getting more people onto ultra-safe trains and off of the roads. From the standpoint of managing traffic flow, it makes sense to have passenger trips use the bullet train to get from place to place on the Highway 99 corridor, and leave the freeway to the freight trucks. Obviously, that runs counter to McCarthy and Devin Nunes’ ideological demand that everyone use their cars.
This would be a huge backward step for California. Freeway widening is obsolete. The great shift away from driving and rising oil prices mean that in the coming years, passenger rail capacity is FAR more important to the state than freeway capacity. Ridership on the Amtrak California San Joaquin line keeps rising by leaps and bounds – up 5% in December 2010 over December 2009 – and there is clearly demand in the Valley for more passenger rail service.
Besides, the money would be a drop in the bucket toward actually doing anything meaningful on Highway 99. The article linked above pegged the cost of widening the 99 freeway at $16.5 billion. That’s far more expensive than the cost of the Central Valley portion of the HSR line (at least between the passes). And taking $2 billion from HSR and giving it to a freeway project would do little to actually achieve the overall goals on the 99 corridor.
Further, it would give barely any economic stimulus to parts of the Valley that need it – much less than HSR would – such as Kern County:
The only work that would have to be accomplished in Kern, [Ron Brummet of the Kern County Council of Governments] said, is an interchange at Hosking Avenue south of Bakersfield and widening the 99 between about Olive Drive and 7th Standard Road.
He said those two projects would benefit Kern by about $50 to $60 million.
“To Kern County, the benefit of converting that (stimulus) money from high-speed rail to 99 … doesn’t do much for us,” he said.
He also noted that the other infrastructure projects required to make the 99 an interstate do not appear to be far enough along to meet the 2012 deadline.
To her credit, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said that she wants the HSR line to be built, that it is a key priority for her. So while Devin Nunes wants to build local support for this lunatic proposal, it is clear that local governments are not really interested in following him over the cliff. Nunes may believe that it’s OK to destroy jobs in his district to suit his ideological fantasies, but local government knows better.
This proposal does not make any financial sense. It does not make any practical sense. It ought to be laughed out of the room as a ridiculous waste of everyone’s time. But it has to be taken seriously since Central Valley Republicans believe that their extreme ideology, one that believes we should all be forced to drive and be denied any other alternative, trumps logic and common sense