Monday, November 3, 2008

High Speed Rail is Good for the Central Valley

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

Below is a repost of a Yes on Prop 1A article written by a good friend of mine who blogs as "wu ming" (Mandarin for "anonymous") at Surf Putah, a blog based in Davis. It's an excellent overview of not just the case for Prop 1A, but why Central Valley voters, even those who won't see an HSR train for decades, will benefit from its passage:

Yes On Prop 1A

There are a whole lot of reasons why Prop 1a is a great idea - reduced carbon emissions, reduced stress on crowded highways and airports, insulation from high oil prices, increased urban densities near stations, and the prospect of a massive construction project in the perennially-underemployed and housing-bubble-busted Central Valley - but beyond that, it's also very smart local politics.

But how? you might ask. After all, the line doesn't even run through Yolo County, and the Sacramento leg won't be completed until a later stage in the system.

Here's why:

1. The Capitol Corridor. In addition to the money to build the main High Speed Rail line, Prop 1a contains a huge amount of funding for feeder lines into that HSR trunk line, among them the highly successful Capitol Corridor, which runs through Yolo County at Davis. The Capitol Corridor is already running near capacity, and while Caltrans has done a lot of work improving the tracks and crossings, leading to faster trains and a very high on-time rate, the route will need a lot more funding to expand to meet local demand. Prop 1a's funds would help run trains more often and later, which is of direct help to Yolo commuters, shoppers and tourists into both the Bay Area and Sacramento. I'd much rather take the train into Sac than drive on the Causeway, if they ran often enough.

2. SoCal gets a lot closer. Even before the bullet train line gets to Sacramento, it will be pretty easy to catch a San Joaquins train in Sacramento to the HSR line in Fresno, and then jet over to LA down the valley from there. Right now, the Coast Starlight is excruciatingly slow because it goes down the coast, but with that slow train + high speed rail combo down the Central Valley, it'll get you to downtown LA in 4 hours or so, which is about as fast as if you drive from Yolo County to Sac Metro, park, wait around in the airport going through security and dealing with delays, and then pick up your baggage and rent a car on the other end. And unlike airplanes (or god forbid an I-5 or Hwy 99 road trip), high speed rail will have wifi and cell phone reception, so you can actually make some productive use of that time while you sip your coffee and admire the scenery.

Of course, when the Sacramento leg of the HSR is built, that'll go down to 2 hours, which will revolutionize the way we think of SoCal, bringing it practically as close as the Bay Area. If you have friends or relatives in SoCal, if you want to take the kids to Disneyland, get out of winter's tule fog and see the sun again, or just want to hit the beaches for the weekend, it'll be a whole lot closer than it is today, and cheaper to get there due to the economics of long, fast trains making multiple runs a day.

3. Yolo County depends on a healthy state economy, and a state government in the black. While I tend to be wary of bond measures, building world class transportation infrastructure is exactly what bonds are supposed to be for. Especially in an economic climate such as this, big projects that employ a bunch of people, both to build and run it, is smart Keynesian economics. It's what we did in the Great Depression, building Shasta Dam, the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridge. When the economic cycle gets back on its feet, having infrastructure like this, which not only moves people more energy-efficiently and cost-effectively, but which also frees up highway, airport and rail space for freight, will contribute to the recovery.

And that infrastructure and job creation, in turn, will lead to a state government and state economy that has more money to invest in other things Yolo County needs. As a county highly dependent on University of California funding, as well as state assistance because of our rather smallish tax base relative to our county government expenses, a thriving state economy, goosed by High Speed Rail, will help to reverse the current death by a thousand cuts that the state legislature is doing to education and social welfare spending.

Replace a vicious cycle with a virtuous one.

4. Finally, because it's incredibly cool. Seriously, as someone who has ridden shinkansen bullet trains in Japan, I am ecstatic at the thought of blazing down the Golden State in a bullet train of our own. One of the things about airplanes is that they are so high up that they remove you from the scenery. High Speed Rail trains, on the other hand, fly along the very surface of the landscape. With a state with scenery as beautiful as ours, be it urban or natural, riding the train will be an amazing experience in and of itself.

As a state as well as a county, passing this bond measure will determine in many ways we have not even considered what sort of future we live in. Right now the market is scrambling to find something to invest in that's not a paper scam or an investor bubble. We should have no problem getting the investors for this train, if we have the will to set it in motion.

Vote Yes on 1a to finally bring California into the 21st century.

The above was written by wu ming and reposted from Surf Putah with his permission.


Rafael said...

In this cased, what's good for the Central Valley is actually good for the Bay Area and SoCal as well.

The Central Valley is where the water is and the (known) seismically active faults are not. Discussion of CHSRA analysis on this blog shows highlighted that relative population growth between 2002 and 2035 will be highest in the Delta, the southern Central Valley and the Antelope Valley - virtually regardless of whether HSR, the modal or the no-project alternative come to pass.

The difference is that HSR will give Central Valley cities a fighting chance to avoid sprawl by creating transit-oriented, naturally shaded neighborhoods in their downtown areas. These will be connected to each other and the rest of the state by fast, clean, safe trains. It will also give the people who choose to live there convenient access to long-distance flights out of SFO and Palmdale in phase I and Ontario in phase II.

Once you can get from Fresno to San Jose in 45 minutes and from Bakersfield to LA in under an hour, those cities become much more attractive to businesses and residents. That doesn't mean there will be more people there but better-educated ones earning higher salaries and contributing more in taxes. While agriculture will always be important in the Central Valley, HSR would allow it to attract entrepreneurs and venture capital needed to turn biotech breakthroughs in laboratories into new green collar jobs in pharmaceuticals, biopolymers, second generation biofuel production, water recycling, waste processing, solar architecture etc.

California is one of the most affluent states in the union because it keeps creating new industries and retaining its lead in them: movies, microprocessors, web applications and more. The next big challenge is getting more GDP out of a lot less fossil fuel. That will require acreage and fresh water, something neither the Bay Area nor SoCal have an excess of.

bossyman15 said...

Hey Robert you should write a article about how CASHR can reduce the war on oil and how much it was costing goverment to do that. that would be good post of this proposition.

Brandon in San Diego said...

Considering the timing, it's a little late. Don't you think?

Anonymous said...

I want to make a last minute adjustment to my prediction of the results tomorrow.

I did a sophisticated sensitivity analysis using the 2 Field Poll data from July 22 and Nov 1st.

I only had 15 variables to work with so my analysis is +/- 1.2%.

Yes 43.6 No 56.4

Sorry guys.

PS. My poor computer took 3.5 hours to finally grind out the number. It should be real accurate --- at least as accurate as what the CHSRA has been pushing at us.

Rafael said...

@ anon -

afaik, there have been a grand total of two published polls on prop 1A. I don't know what sophisticated model you've used, there simply isn't enough data to make a confident prediction at this point.

We'll just have to see what happens tomorrow, at least turnout appears to be high. That suggests the youth vote will be stronger this year than ever before, largely thanks to the combination of Obama's popularity with this demographic, the ferocity of the prop 8 campaign and, the cratering economy.

Anonymous said...

One thing to keep in mind about the early vote results, reports are that the dems huge expected majority hasnt materialized yet:

From the LA Times:

"With nearly 210,000 people having voted, the Democrats have only a 1,000 vote advantage"

While this means that some dems are voting no, we wont really be able to see until tomorrow. It still has a chance but I think it will be close.


Rob Dawg said...

The Central Valley is where the water is and the (known) seismically active faults are not.

Huh? Come on Rafael there are lots of good reasons to support HSR. No need to make ones up. The CV is supplied with water and blooms. Provide HSR and it will bloom as well but don't mistake resource with resource allocation.

Brandon in San Diego said...

Well, assuming the 47-42 split with 11 undecided is accurate, I figure only 3 out of 11 voters need to vote yes for 1A to pass.

Or, more than 8 no's out of 11 votes for it to go down in defeat.

Again, assuming the latest poll is accurate... Advantage Yes on 1A.

Rafael said...

@ rob dawg -

my point was that it's fairly easy and cheap to provide new residents in the Central Valley with drinking water, especially in the Delta portion.

By contrast, the Bay Area and SoCal are both supported by aqueducts that were very expensive to construct but are now running near capacity. Also, the pumps near Tracy and those north of the Grapevine combined combined use around 2% of all electricity used in the state - twice as much as the entire HSR network running at full tilt would.

To the extent that HSR makes the Central Valley more attractive places to live and work, it will reduce the need to build expensive and ecologically damaging new water distribution infrastructure. The assumptions underlying CHSRA's analysis led to the conclusion that the demographic impact of HSR vs. the alternatives will be small.

The actual demographic impact would depend on whether the state decides it actually wants to make the Central Valley more attractive to avoid all manner of infrastructure capacity increases that would otherwise become necessary in the Bay Area and SoCal. Water and transportation are the ones that come to mind first, but much the same applies to sewers, electricity, landfills etc.

Plus, the state's economy is currently extremely exposed to known seismic faults. The Hayward fault in the East Bay has historically produced a major quake every 140 years or so - the last one was in 1868, USGS has handicapped the chance of another one in the next 30 years at over 90%. At a strength of 6.5-7 on the Richter scale, the financial damage alone could reach a staggering $170 billion.

So strategically, you would want as many of the new arrivals as possible to settle down in the Central Valley to minimize the cost of this future event and, the economy's ability to afford it.

HSR alone would not deliver this desirable outcome all by itself, but I reckon it would help California get there.

bossyman15 said...

where does field poll get their data?
from the votes counted so far?
or from asking random people through out the california?

BruceMcF said...

The Field poll is a poll ... given early voting, they include in their poll the question of whether a respondent has already voted.

Early votes themselves are counted when the polls close, same as votes cast on election day.