Saturday, April 19, 2008

Quentin Kopp and Jim Costa on HSR

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

Two of the leading figures in the high speed rail project have published op-eds in this week's issue of Capitol Weekly: Quentin Kopp, chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority's board, and Jim Costa, Democratic Congressman from the 20th district (Fresno).

They are both interesting previews of what a fall HSR campaign might look like. Kopp and Costa's op-eds both emphasize the following factors:

- Congestion relief
- Job creation/economic growth
- System profitability
- Environmental benefits

Interestingly, Costa's op-ed is more focused on the congestion relief and jobs creation aspect:

The short-term and long-term economic impacts of a high-speed rail system would be tremendous for California's economy. Construction of the system is estimated to generate almost 300,000 jobs. Following construction, the system will provide 450,000 permanent jobs in California. These jobs will have a huge ripple effect into other areas of California's economy, such as the service and manufacturing industries. Overall, for every dollar invested in this system, we will see two dollars in return.

Any Californian who travels more than fifty miles to work, or who travels for pleasure will tell you they would love a headache and traffic-free route to their destination. Whether flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco, driving back and forth from the Inland Empire to San Diego, or commuting from the Central Valley to the Bay Area, drive and fly times can total four or five hours of travel time. High speed rail can not only cut these travel times significantly, but ease the grind of congestion Californians have while traveling in-state by car or air.

The "for every dollar invested we will see two dollars in return" figure is interesting, and while I'd love to see the origin of that claim, the overall concept that this project will produce economic growth well beyond the initial investment is clearly true, whatever the actual figures turn out to be. It would make travel within the state easier, especially as rising gas prices and peak oil begin to price more and more Californians out of intrastate travel.

And the immediate economic impact of the system is considerable. California's unemployment rate now stands at 6.2% and rising, having soared a stunning 0.5% in March alone. 300,000 construction jobs would be a significant economic stimulus, especially considering how hard hit the state's construction industry has been by the housing market collapse.

Quentin Kopp mentions these figures as well, but spends more time emphasizing the environmental benefits:

From Earth Day to the Environmental Quality Act, California has always been known as a leader in pioneering environmental protections. But with air pollution worsening, we've lost ground. Electric high-speed trains will restore our leadership role in the "green" movement.

High-speed trains will eliminate nearly 18 billion pounds of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming each year. That's equivalent to removing more than one million vehicles from our roads annually. They will also reduce dependence on foreign oil by up to 22 million barrels per year.

As populations continue to increase, high-speed trains are constitute a key pillar in local efforts to clean up what has become some of the nation's dirtiest air. Statewide, California's population will rise to 50 million people in 20 years.

These numbers are, to me, just as considerable as the jobs figures discussed above. Living six blocks from Monterey Bay, I'm acutely aware of the impact of global warming on California's cities. Concern over rising sea levels is already forcing Bay Area planning agencies to prepare to relocate residents and businesses when the bay starts rising. The economic benefits of reducing dependence on foreign oil should be obvious to anyone who has filled up a gas tank lately. And the reduction in carbon emissions is also important, given that by 2018 Californians will almost certainly be paying some form of carbon fees - whether an outright carbon tax or passed-on costs from a cap-and-trade system - every time they drive and fly, making HSR an even more competitive and affordable alternative.

It seems that these will be the four pillars of the official HSR campaign this fall - congestion relief, job creation/economic growth, system profitability, and environmental benefits. Personally I would consider emphasizing the costs of oil-based transportation as well, but then public awareness of peak oil is still depressingly low (there's an idea for your next movie, Al Gore). Given the economic and environmental concerns that are at the top of Californians' list of priorities, however, the approach Kopp and Costa are taking makes a great deal of political sense.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Strictly speaking, Hubbert's peak applies only to an individual oil reservoir. If the price of oil is high enough, companies will go to the ends of the earth and to the depths of the oceans to find more of it. They will tap into tar sands and oil shale whose production causes incredible environmental damage. We're not about to physically run out of oil.

However, we are running out of oil that we can afford, financially, strategically and with regard to the climate crisis. The oil age will draw to a close if and when superior technology makes it easy for us to make that choice.

Btw, Al Gore's new argument is that we should be thankful we have the chance to make choices now that future generations will praise us for. I found his rhetoric a little over the top, but step by step his and others' efforts have been changing people's minds.

The HSR bond measure is much more likely to be approved if the relatively small amount of electricity used in its operation will be 100% renewable.

As for growth, passenger rail service tends to produce a string of cities that are densely built up, precisely because people generally don't have a private car to get to where they need to be at both ends of the trip.

This prompts cities to promote the construction of high-rise office towers and pedestrian shopping zones with sidewalk cafes, bicycle paths etc. The greater density also makes public transport much more viable.

Car culture = urban sprawl, high & dirty energy footprint = unsustainable

Electric rail culture = denser urban cores, lower & cleaner energy footprint = more sustainable

That doesn't mean there is no place for personal motor cars. It's just that we shouldn't sacrifice everything on that particular altar.