The Central Valley has long been the forgotten region of California - as Southern California and the Bay Area dominate the state's media and politics, the Central Valley's needs often appear to go unmet. Yet this region is one of the fastest-growing parts of our state, and will make up the bulk of the high speed rail route. The Central Valley needs economic development assistance, major transportation infrastructure development, and a program of smart transit-oriented development to replace the growing reliance on sprawl. And as rail advocate Alan Kandel reminds us, the high speed rail project will help with another core need of that region - cleaning up the notoriously polluted air of the San Joaquin Valley:
Here’s what’s puzzling. With as bad as the air in the Central San Joaquin Valley is alleged or purported to be, there isn’t a single Central Valley based municipality that has even a semblance of passenger rail service above and beyond what’s provided by Amtrak California, except maybe in Stockton and Tracy which are served by the hugely successful Altamont Commuter Express to and from the south Bay Area. To those folks, that must be a godsend.
What’s amazing is, over the years patronage numbers on Amtrak’s “San Joaquin” trains – right up there with their “Pacific Surfliner” and “Capitol Corridor” train counterparts – have soared! These three services are ranked in the top six in the national Amtrak system. These didn’t attain these noteworthy spots by accident either. And, I’ll bet an even greater number of Valley (and state) residents will be traveling via Amtrak in the days, weeks, months and years ahead even, given gas prices going up the way they are. Yet, understanding this and with as much as people embrace and use the passenger train service, why, it seems, the thinking isn’t directed to electrified light- and/or heavy-rail intracity services in Central California boggles the mind.
In fact, a 2006 Fresno Bee article explained that lung problems have soared among residents in recent years, and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District estimated that to counter this trend, the region needed to eliminate 400 tons of pollution per day by 2011. High speed rail would help accomplish that task.
High speed rail is going to be a godsend for the Central Valley. It will link Sacramento, Stockton, Modesto, Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield to the rest of the state, bringing jobs and economic opportunity to its residents. It will make travel much easier for them - and cheaper as well. Most importantly, it will help clean up the region's worsening, polluted air.
Instead Arnold Schwarzenegger and freeway advocates propose to drop $6 billion on modernizing and upgrading Highway 99 between Stockton and Bakersfield. With soaring gas prices - and diesel nearing $5 a gallon - is this the best use of money for upgrading Central Valley transportation?
In contrast to Southern California and Bay Area HSR critics like Martin Engel, the Central Valley is very strongly supportive of the project. Central Valley politicians like Cathleen Galgiani have helped provide leadership at the state level, and Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno) has been a strong advocate of HSR, helping create the project when he was in the state legislature and helping build support for it in Congress. Virtually all of the chambers of commerce up and down the Valley support the project, and local governments in towns like Fresno and Visalia are already beginning to plan their downtown developments and transportation strategies around high speed rail.
But it may have been a comment on Alan Kandel's post that said it best:
Being concerned about what you breath is the ultimate quality of life issue, and people who can leave some times do. I left due to the lack of any meaningful effort to address the issue. The Great Valley Center was talking about new towns of 80,000 to 100,000 people on the far western side of the valley and I knew AQI was only going to get worse.
You can defend yourself or at least take some action to limit your exposure to crime, or blight or school quality, or any number of issues in the community, but you can't take a break from breathing the air.
I said it at the time to my classmates in Leadership Fresno and here it is again; air quality is the key to nearly every issue in Fresno and the SJV.