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Labor's Edge: Views from the California Labor Movement

California Needs High Speed Rail Now

by Robbie Hunter, State Building and Construction Trades Council of California

California urgently needs high speed rail now. The nay-sayers are still searching for reasons to delay this great public works project further, but they are out of  excuses. The delays need to stop. It is time to move forward and begin building. The transportation needs, the workers and the dollars are there to get started.

Governor Brown has made the sensible suggestion to use cap-and-trade dollars for some of the funding. That makes sense because the very purpose of cap-and-trade is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels--one of the greatest benefits high-speed mass transit rail will bring to California. Without question, providing electrified mass transit for the people of California will reduce our use of fossil fuels.

That's in addition to the other obvious benefits of a cleaner and healthier environment, the easing of congestion on our highways and at our airports, the more efficient movement between our state's population centers, and the immediate economic jolt of  thousands of good construction jobs.

Simply put, California cannot afford not to do this. Our transportation system is already overtaxed and our population will reach 50 million by mid-century. High-speed rail is the only viable means of making sure our transportation infrastructure can meet our growing demand. Continuing to build more and more freeways and airports would be more expensive, more environmentally damaging, and less efficient. Ultimately, the cost of doing nothing will far exceed the cost of modernizing our rail system.

Other developed nations are using high-speed rail with tremendous results. We have learned from places like Spain, France, China, Japan and other countries that high-speed rail is the most efficient and preferred mode of transportation between population centers 100 to 500 miles apart. That is precisely the corridor California's high-speed rail will serve. California and high-speed rail are made for each other.

We must remember that there are always up-front costs for getting a major project off the ground, whether a dam or bridge, factory or a college; there are costs up front followed by great benefits. If you don't get started, you can never get where you want to be.

But, as we see once again, the opposition always dwells on those early costs. That's why in 1932, there were over 2,000 lawsuits filed to try to stop the Golden Gate Bridge from being built, and many more opposing Hoover Dam. But those projects have proven their worth many times over, and continue to benefit us nearly a century later.

Now, high speed rail's opponents seek to use the courts to slow the process by trying to block the state's issuing of bonds on the grounds that the scope or purpose of the project has somehow changed since voters approved Proposition 1A in 2008. This makes no sense. Providing efficient mass transit up and down the state was the goal then, and it still is.

As language of the ballot summary spelled out, high-speed rail will provide long-distance commuters with a safe, convenient, affordable, and reliable alternative to driving and to high gas prices. It will reduce traffic congestion on the state's highways and at the state's airports. It will reduce California's dependence on foreign oil. It will reduce air pollution and global warming greenhouse gases. And it, finally, will provide fast, time-saving connections between California’s major population hubs. All of those things were important when Californians approved the bond measure in 2008, and we and California's Governor are staying true to the commitments spelled out in the ballot summary.

The Governor is to be commended on his leadership and resolve. Let your local Assembly and Senate representatives know that you agree. You can find your representatives at www.senate.ca.gov  and www.assembly.ca.gov.

We have the funding to begin work now. California needs the economic, environmental, and quality-of-life benefits of high speed rail--now.

Posted on 02/06/2014Permalink

More posts by Robbie Hunter

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