Where Were the Farmers When Valley Freeways Were Widened?
Fresno Bee editorial page editor Jim Boren raises a very interesting point on Twitter today:
Talked to farmer who lost farm because of Freeway 180 extension. No squawks from farm community cause opposition to HSR is political.
Boren is likely referring to the SR 180 East freeway extension projects, funded by Fresno County’s Measure C 1/2 cent sales tax. The 180 freeway is being extended in both directions, east and west, from Fresno and some of this work involves taking farmland. Similar freeway projects have impacted Valley farmland for decades, including the construction of Interstate 5 itself on what was largely a brand new alignment on the west side of the Valley.
None of these projects generated the kind of vehement opposition that high speed rail has. Boren’s suggestion is that the opposition is “political.”
A 140-character tweet doesn’t reveal a lot, and so I hope Boren will elaborate on his conversation and his insights in more depth. But we can look at what we already know and draw some conclusions.
We know that HSR is strongly opposed by Valley Republicans in Congress, despite the fact that the project would bring thousands of jobs to one of the parts of California with the worst unemployment. Jeff Denham, Devin Nunes and Kevin McCarthy are ideologically opposed to HSR, but they are also opposed to President Barack Obama. Anything that helps Obama promote his agenda is something those Congressmen will oppose. That’s especially true of anything that undermines the oil companies, including the Koch brothers who play such an important role in underwriting right-wing politics in this country.
Many farmers are also right-wing political activists. The Kings County Farm Bureau strongly backs Valley Republican candidates. At a recent EIR hearing in Hanford, project opponents literally gathered under a Tea Party banner.
There are also deeper issues. Like their Peninsula NIMBY counterparts, Valley HSR opponents do not want to give anyone else an opportunity to enjoy prosperity, believing that to do so would necessarily come at the expense of some of the prosperity they already have. And both groups refuse to accept the evidence that intercity passenger rail is already popular with Californians, that they are likely to ride high speed rail, and that HSR is globally successful.
Not sure which of those Boren was referring to, or maybe to something else entirely. But it’s worth keeping in mind that as usual, passenger rail is held to standards that freeways aren’t.