One of the points I have repeatedly tried to make on this blog is that the choice is not between spending $40 billion on HSR or spending $0 and doing nothing. The cost of not building the high speed rail project is very high - at least double the cost of building HSR, if the $80 billion figure for road and airport expansion that the CHSRA has offered is accurate.
So it's good to see this crucial point get picked up by the state's media, including the Fresno Bee. In today's excellent editorial they write:
High-speed rail makes sense for a number of reasons -- economic development, environmental improvements, reducing highway congestion, smarter growth patterns -- but here's one more: The cost of not building the system would be much greater than $40 billion.
Opponents of the high-speed system often sound as if this is a choice between spending the $40 billion or spending nothing. That notion is just dead wrong.
Take just one instance. Expanding existing highways and airports to meet the transportation needs projected to come with growth in the state's population would cost two or there times as much -- and would make air quality and congestion even worse. In some cases -- San Francisco, Los Angeles -- existing airports can't be expanded. Bigger and better freeways? Expanding Highway 99 in the Valley to an eight-lane interstate would cost as much as $25 billion alone -- and that's just to serve the Valley, not the entire state.
And as that editorial rightly suggests, the cost of not building HSR isn't limited to the construction costs on new freeway lanes - but should also include the cost of pollution that is already causing health problems in the San Joaquin Valley. To that we can add the cost of fuel for drivers and airline passengers, the cost in lost economic development, and the cost of carbon taxes or passed-on cap-and-trade fees.
It is possible that through no fault of the CHSRA - as global inflation in construction materials continues and as the US dollar loses value - the overall tab for HSR might rise above $40 billion. Of course, Californians will only be asked to front $10 billion, in the form of long-term bonds to be repaid from fares. Can the same be said of the alternative? Without HSR Californians will have to shell out billions in higher fuel costs, freeway and airport expansion, and will have to do so from the worsening environmental and economic position that would result from not having built HSR.
As countries around the world - including Iran, Morocco, and Vietnam - plan high speed rail systems, surely Californians would want to remain economically competitive AND save themselves money by building HSR. Of the many good reasons for building the system, fiscal responsibility and economic common sense are among the strongest.