It’s been over five years since California residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of the high-speed train that promised to connect California in a way that neither cars nor airplanes are able to do. In that time, those that voted for the plan have often been considerably less interested in its construction, given expected delays and cost overruns. The project itself has had price tags of $45 billion in 2008 to more than $100 billion in 2011 and, now, $68 billion. It’s also easy to forget that in the time since voting in favor of the referendum, California has seen a tremendous surge in deficit spending and a housing bubble that burst as badly as anywhere in the country.
Quentin Kopp has turned against the current project
In addition, the high-speed rail line has been slowed down considerably to the point that one wonders whether or not it will ever reach the speeds promised in connecting San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco and a number of other cities that constitute the Central Valley of California. Even the former chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, Quentin Kopp, has turned against the current project, saying in court papers that it “is no longer a genuine high speed rail system.”
Today, after all the issues that have slowed the “high speed” rail system and the numerous problems that will inevitably rear their heads, engineering work has finally begun on the first 30-mile segment of track here in Fresno. A city that represents California’s struggles, high-unemployment, and a reliance on agriculture.
California to pay a cost in more ways than one
Beyond the sheer volume of work that the project will require, and the billions of dollars it will cost California as a whole, there are thousands of people who will have to make way for the project. People will lose their businesses while others will lose farmland.
Communication with these people and the public in general has also been a problem; one that has been acknowledged by the man ostensibly charged with its construction.
“Frankly, it set us back, because we, in effect, created questions and even opposition by just failing to give people answers,” says Jeff Morales, the authority’s chief executive officer since 2012.
“By connecting Fresno, Bakersfield and the other cities of the Central Valley to Los Angeles and San Francisco … it just creates more opportunities for people,” he says. “It creates a whole different sort of economy that’ll just raise the Central Valley.”
Gov. Jerry Brown calls rail “cheaper than the alternative, and it’s a hell of a lot better.”