Widening I-5 More Expensive Than HSR to Anaheim
Today the Los Angeles Times reported that the revised draft business plan includes a shift back to the original plan – the high speed rail extension to Anaheim will not be part of the first phase of construction after all:
In a blow to Orange County’s hopes for a boost to business and tourism, the California bullet train project has dropped a link to Anaheim from its current, $68-billion plan.
The rail agency confirmed the shift Friday, marking a significant departure for the Bay Area-to-Southern California high-speed rail system that state voters approved in 2008.
Under newly revised plans, the first phase of the line would have its southern terminus near downtown Los Angeles rather than in Orange County.
Bullet train passengers would have to transfer to slower Metrolink or Amtrak trains in Los Angeles to reach Orange County’s largest city. Until now, officials had vowed that under the first phase, the bullet trains would whisk riders about 40 miles southeast of downtown to the Disneyland area.
Keep in mind that this is a Ralph Vartabedian-authored article, and therefore is deeply biased against the project. What the article doesn’t explain is that the inclusion of Anaheim in the first phase of construction was a change made prior to the 2008 vote on Proposition 1A. Originally the HSR project was to connect San Francisco to Los Angeles via the Central Valley, with extensions to Sacramento, Orange County, the Inland Empire and San Diego coming later. Anaheim’s inclusion in the first phase was nice, especially for this OC native, but I’m not surprised or saddened that it is being pushed out to a later date. Given the need to focus resources on getting the core of the system built from SF to LA, it makes sense to wait:
Electrifying and improving the Los Angeles to Orange County route would cost $6 billion and save only 10 minutes of travel time, said rail authority Chairman Dan Richard.
“Why would we do that, pay $600 million per minute?” he said in an interview Friday.
That cost – $6 billion for about 30 miles of track – is not cheap. And yet it’s less than the cost of widening a freeway.
Right now Los Angeles County is busy widening Interstate 5 in the Santa Fe Springs/Norwalk/La Mirada area. That stretch of the 5 hasn’t been widened since the freeway was originally built in the 1950s, and is a regular choke point for drivers. In 2008 LA County voters approved Measure R, which focused most of its money on rail but included a few billion for freeway projects, including widening that section of the 5. That project costs $1.6 billion for about 7 miles – or about $228 million per mile. HSR from LA to Anaheim – $6 billion over 30 miles – would cost about $206 million per mile.
Of course, HSR to Anaheim is not just cheaper because it costs less than widening freeways. It’s cheaper because it offers more people an affordable option to get around the region and the state without having to buy expensive gas and light it on fire. It helps contribute to the green dividend, putting more money in the local economy and into the state treasury. Passenger trains would cover their operating costs, whereas freeways don’t.
Eventually the tracks to Anaheim would be upgraded:
Don Sepulveda, executive officer of regional rail for the Metropolitan Transportation Agency, predicted that high-speed trains would eventually run between Los Angeles and Anaheim and share track with Amtrak and Metrolink. But electrification of the route, which is required for bullet trains, will not happen until after the system reaches Union Station.
“It is now a lower priority, but I believe it will eventually be electrified. It will not be a feeder line for high-speed rail,” he said.
Which is sensible and fine by me. While Ralph Vartabedian will want to spin this as another setback for the project, the reality is that it’s a shift in direction for how to improve rail in this state. By getting the SF-LA core finished, public support for extensions will spread. I’m all for the new approach – and remain confident that Orange County will get the high speed passenger rail service it needs and deserves.