The Cost of Doing Nothing is At Least $100 Billion
As people pore over the Draft EIR for the Central Valley HSR section, the usual suspects are beginning to scream “omg too expensive!” Nobody should be surprised to see anti-HSR legislators like Senator Alan Lowenthal and Republicans attacking the new cost estimates:
We really need to re-examine what we’re spending and what we’re going to get for it,” said Sen. Alan Lowenthal…
State Sen. Doug La Malfa, R-Willows, said he is preparing legislation that would ask voters to reconsider the project in June 2012. Voters authorized $9 billion in bonds for the project in 2008, although most of those bonds have not yet been sold.
“This thing is well on its way to massive cost overruns,” La Malfa said. “The costs are starting to escalate and we need to take a time-out.”
US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hit back hard against such thinking:
“Our country is so short sighted — our highways are jammed … and we are spending so much wasted money hauling people in airplanes for 300 miles or less, which is terribly inefficient,” he said. “I am a big big fan of high speed rail, you have to look at things other than the raw numbers of how much it costs. How much does it save?
“If you could take a train from Sacramento to L.A. to San Diego, that would be wonderful, instead of the inefficient San Francisco to Los Angeles flights that happen every day,” he went on. “It would be so short sighted to walk away from the bonding capacity — you have $10 or $12 billion in bonds — because of costs.”
Senator Reid, still the most powerful man in the US Senate, clearly gets it. So too does Nancy Pelosi, the once and future Speaker of the House. And of course, President Barack Obama gets it as well.
One reason they get it is they actually look at the whole cost picture, rather than just one half of the equation. We know HSR isn’t cheap. But the alternatives are even more expensive, as the Draft EIS highlights explain:
Statewide, over the next two decades, California’s HST system would alleviate the need to spend more than $100 billion to build 3,000 miles of new freeway, 5 airport runways, and 90 departure gates to meet the transportation needs of a growing population. In fact, the San Joaquin Valley is projected to grow at a rate higher than any other region in California. Four counties – Fresno, Kings, Tulare, and Kern – are projected to grow by 72% by year 2035.
In other words, not building high speed rail is the most expensive option of all. Those who suggest we kill HSR because of concern about costs are actually saying we should do the option that is WAY more expensive, and won’t actually help us build a sustainable transportation system.
Further, building HSR generates significant economic benefits that the critics never, ever acknowledge. Its green dividend for California could be as high as $10 billion a year just for Los Angeles alone.
If people are going to discuss costs, they need to discuss the full range of cost concerns, from the cost of doing nothing to the green dividend we’d been sacrificing without HSR. If people aren’t willing to include those figures, they’re not engaging in an honest debate.