AB 3034, the bill that makes some changes to the November HSR bond, sailed through the Assembly today on a
57-0 60-3 vote. Apparently Mike Villines got the message. The bill heads toward the Senate, where I am told it will be taken up in about two to three weeks.
But there is growing concern among HSR supporters about this bill - specifically, the provision that eliminates the rule that LA-SF had to be built first and replacing it with a nebulous "competitive bidding" process where HSR bond funds will instead go to those portions of the proposed route that can leverage the most funding. Although it's not clear how this might work in practice, it runs a very high risk of leaving us with an HSR system that is built with a missing link in the Central Valley, defeating the main purpose and selling point of the system - that it will connect the state's two largest metro areas, providing an alternative to the collapsing airlines system and the impact of soaring fuel prices.
This blog advocates a clearly planned phase approach, where LA-SF is the first route constructed and opened, but where extensions to SD and Sacramento are guaranteed, not merely promised, as Phase II. This would give Californians the confidence that the system will not only be built as planned, but built to its fullest potential. The ridership projections, and therefore the financial promises, all hinge upon a system that completely connects LA and SF. To compromise that connection, to sever the LA-SF link, is to compromise the entire project.
Unfortunately there is a risk of that happening. For example, this is from today's Fresno Bee:
As envisioned, the rail line would eventually run from San Diego to as far north as Sacramento, with trains reaching top speeds of more than 200 mph. Under the bill, route segments that draw the most financial support from local governments and private and federal sources would get top priority.
The provision could potentially delay some Valley segments -- if nonstate financial support does not materialize. But Mehdi Morshed, executive director of the High Speed Rail Authority, said the Valley remains a top priority because the wide-open region is the only place where trains can reach top speeds.
"We cannot do 220-mile [an hour] service or test the 220-mile-an-hour train .... without building a significant section in the Central Valley," he said.
Galgiani's bill drew support from San Joaquin Valley leaders because it increases the likelihood that a Valley-to-Sacramento route will be included in the first phase.
Since few "local governments" can front the necessary money for this, especially in the Valley, that term seems to me to refer to mass transit agencies, such as Caltrain, VTA, Metrolink, LACMTA, and others.
Nobody can argue that this blog hasn't been aware of this problem - it was in fact the subject of the very first post back in March - but at the same time we missed a chance to amend the bill in the Assembly. We will now need to focus on getting the Senate to fix the bill and ensure that HSR is not built in pieces - and we will also focus on getting some information out of the CHSRA and legislative leaders about their commitment to building true HSR and not glorified commuter rail in a few unconnected parts of the state.
Friday afternoon is a bad time to try and get info out of Sacramento - but it also gives us two wide-open days to organize. Anyone interested in helping put some activism together to help ensure the integrity of the HSR system, send an email to my last name at gmail dot com.