On Monday the Ventura County Star ran a good article on high speed rail. That prompted on Daniel Goldberg, who writes a blog for the VC Star's website, to write one of the silliest pieces of HSR denial I've ever seen. Even though it's absurd on its face, it's worth deconstructing these arguments which are likely to be with us for some time, especially as contentious debates over HSR implementation continue.
Goldberg starts with:
On Monday's front page there was an article about $8 billion in stimulus funds that might be allocated to high speed rail. My initial response was "why can't we stop wasting money?" The high speed rail debate has been going on for years, I think if it really was worth it, we would have dont it by now.
Obviously Goldberg has no clue about how major infrastructure projects are designed and permitted in this country, nor is he aware that we were supposed to vote on this in 2004 but Arnold Schwarzenegger insisted on delaying the vote for HSR bonds to 2006, and then to 2008.
Yes, building the fancy train set might create some jobs, but what about the long run.
Does he assume the train will vanish after 10 years? That it's got some sort of Mission: Impossible self-destruct system? In fact the HSR system will be a central part of California's long-term economic strategy, providing jobs and savings for decades to come. One estimate was that 450,000 jobs would be created by 2030 by the system - nothing to sneeze at.
Our state is already equipped with airports in every major city. And most minor cities also have small airports.
This is more of the usual "air travel means trains aren't necessary!" nonsense we usually see from HSR deniers, people who have probably never actually used some of these small airports. Many, like San Luis Obispo airport, are seeing declining passenger levels and carriers are abandoning the small airports in droves. Of course, peak oil means that the cost of flying will continue to rise - $49 fares from SF to LA will be a thing of the past in 2018.
Furthermore, let us not forget about our current rail system. Besides the Metrolink accident that occurred late last year, the current system works. Trains run daily all over the state and in an efficient manner. This brings me to the old saying, "If its not broken, don't fix it." Lets hope the wiseguys up in Sacramento subscribe to it.
Obviously Goldberg has never actually used a passenger train in California. They run daily, and are efficient given their enormous constraints. But they are wholly inadequate to the task of meeting California's overall transportation needs in the way they can and should. It shouldn't take 12 hours to get from SF to LA via train. It shouldn't even take an hour to get to LA from Santa Ana on a train. California's passenger trains, especially the intercity trains, have attracted a lot of riders and dedicated supporters, but I doubt any of them would say that the present situation is adequate or acceptable.
Especially given the need to boost non-oil based forms of travel, for environmental, economic, and energy reasons. But then I'm guessing Goldberg doesn't believe in global warming either.
He concludes his ill-informed rant:
Back to the $8 billion at hand. I am plenty sure it can be used for a better purpose. What about all those teachers who were just laid off or buying books for students. I imagine it would be better to invest the stimulus money into education rather than on infastructure, and especially for infastructure we DO NOT NEED.
And in the actual version, the "DO NOT NEED" is in a much bigger font than the rest of the text, as if we're too stupid to understand that's his point without being shouted at.
As to the issue of other needs, like schools - we've actually discussed that very issue before, back in May 2008, and ironically based off another ill-informed bit of HSR denial that ran in the Ventura County Star.
The points are still valid today. HSR isn't taking money from schools. The state contribution comes from general obligation bonds, paid out over 30 years at what's probably going to be an annual cost of around $600 million (and that's the higher end of the estimate). Our K-12 schools, however, face a $9 billion cut this year.
If you want to fix our schools, we need to raise taxes. There's no way around it.
But the issues go deeper. Why is California's budget in a mess? For 30 years now we have had a structural revenue shortfall - in other words, for the last 30 years we have not raised enough tax revenue to pay for our basic needs. The solution to this is NOT to turn to bonds - a structural problem needs a structural solution, and bond debt isn't such a solution.
Bonds are properly used to build long-term infrastructure. To pay for ongoing costs like education, we need more tax revenue.
Further, the economic crisis - what I believe to be a Depression, but what many are now calling the Great Recession - is sending tax revenues into the tank. That economic crisis is largely due to the effects of high oil prices on an economy based on sprawl and automobile commuting. If we want to recover from this crisis, grow the economy, generate new tax revenues, and pay for schools, then we need to get off of oil NOW. High speed rail helps get us there.
Unfortunately, HSR deniers refuse to acknowledge any of this, and that means they and their silly arguments will be with us for many years to come.