Today's San Jose Mercury News includes a fantastic op-ed by State Senator Dean Florez (Fresno) and Erin Steva of CALPIRG, calling on US Senator Dianne Feinstein to support the $4 billion for high speed rail currently pending in the Senate:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein has established herself as a high-speed rail champion. She has another great opportunity to stand up for high-speed rail, since she serves on the House-Senate conference committee that will finalize the bill. Its eventual choice will send an important signal to the country about Congress' commitment to high-speed rail as an innovative solution to our nation's transportation challenges.
Sen. Florez and Steva lay out the case for federal HSR spending:
A $4 billion federal investment would buy new, high-performance locomotives and passenger cars built in the U.S., better signals, track and grade-crossing upgrades and removal of rail bottlenecks — all resulting in faster and more convenient travel. In California, it will create hundreds of thousands of quality jobs in fields that have experienced losses over the last decade, including the technology, construction and engineering sectors....
Americans are turning to passenger rail in record numbers. Rail travel ridership increased each of the last six years, while vehicle miles traveled for cars and trucks has fallen over the last two years for the first time since the oil crisis of the 1970s.
It's a strong argument for HSR spending, especially since putting $4 billion in this year's bill will set a precedent to maintain that level of funding in future budget cycles. Whereas a $1.2 billion amount, as the Senate seems to prefer, would make it more difficult to expand HSR funding, especially in future years when there is likely to be increased pressure to slash federal spending.
It's not the usual way of operating for Democrats, but they would be wise to push as many good things through now, and set a precedent that will be more difficult to undo should they lose control of Congress or the White House in the next decade. Let's hope Senator Feinstein comes through with $4 billion for HSR.