News

Guest opinion: Recognize the progress of high-speed rail project

An older rendering of the California high-speed rail project.

California's high-speed rail project is under fire again, but history shows us that major infrastructure projects are almost always controversial.

Before it was built, the Golden Gate Bridge was derided as financially unsound, legally dubious and an aesthetic blight. BART was deemed "the ultimate money drain." Today opponents of the high-speed rail shorthand their objections: "boondoggle."

Mega-infrastructure projects are hard. The bigger the project, the harder it gets. And California hasn't tackled an infrastructure project as big or as bold as high-speed rail since the building of our state highway system more than 50 years ago.

Yet despite all the hand-wringing, the political infighting, the calls to cancel the project and redirect funds, progress marches steadily forward. The High-Speed Rail Authority is systematically and transparently working its way through full environmental clearance for the entire statewide system by the end of 2022 so that as continued funding becomes available, the state is ready to build.

What's not reported often is that this project is undertaking the largest environmental clearance effort in the country. The authority continues to make steady progress on this effort, with a schedule that shows they'll meet the federally mandated 2022 deadline.

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Construction of the high-speed rail system is fully underway at 32 job sites across several counties along the first 119 miles of the system. This stretch will be the heart of the system and the testing ground for the nation's first electrified high-speed rail trains. As of this month, 4,000 men and women have been put to work on construction jobs in the Central Valley because of the high-speed rail project. Rather than joining the swollen ranks of unemployed Californians, these men and women are providing for themselves and their families and helping build California's future.

Here in the Bay Area, thanks to $700 million of investment from the High-Speed Rail Authority, Caltrain is already working on its part of the project: electrifying the Peninsula corridor. Ultimately, Caltrain will share tracks with high-speed rail trains for the ride between San Francisco and Gilroy. The High-Speed Rail Authority is also collaborating with local agencies to bring trains to the Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco and to reimagine the future of Diridon Station in San Jose.

This project is moving along, and contrary to recent reports, legislative oversight of the project has been consistent and ongoing. The state Senate and Assembly each appoint members to sit on the authority board and receive regular updates on the authority's plans and progress. The Legislature also holds final authority over release of bond funds, a major source of project funding.

Both sides of the aisle seem to agree that infrastructure projects are essential. Both sides agree that we need jobs. Yet somehow this infrastructure project, which is not only creating jobs but also connecting the major economic regions of our state — while tackling climate change, traffic and affordable housing — continues to remain controversial. The time is now to move forward on bringing this critical investment into reality.

These days the Golden Gate Bridge is an iconic symbol of San Francisco. And it's hard to imagine what Bay Area traffic would look like without BART. Someday, high-speed rail will hold a similar place in California's economy and vitality.

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We can build things in California. It takes persistence, patience, political will, long-term vision and thoughtful public discourse. And it would help if we can all agree to drop the term "boondoggle" and start recognizing the progress that's happening right in our home state.

State Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) represents the 15th Senate District and is chair of the Transportation Committee. State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) represents the 11th Senate District and is chair of the Housing Committee. CalMatters is a Sacramento-based nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California's state Capitol works and why it matters. It works with more than 130 media partners throughout the state that have long, deep relationships with their local audiences, including The Almanac.

Follow AlmanacNews.com and The Almanac on Twitter @almanacnews, Facebook and on Instagram @almanacnews for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Guest opinion: Recognize the progress of high-speed rail project

by / CalMatters

Uploaded: Wed, Jul 22, 2020, 10:27 am

California's high-speed rail project is under fire again, but history shows us that major infrastructure projects are almost always controversial.

Before it was built, the Golden Gate Bridge was derided as financially unsound, legally dubious and an aesthetic blight. BART was deemed "the ultimate money drain." Today opponents of the high-speed rail shorthand their objections: "boondoggle."

Mega-infrastructure projects are hard. The bigger the project, the harder it gets. And California hasn't tackled an infrastructure project as big or as bold as high-speed rail since the building of our state highway system more than 50 years ago.

Yet despite all the hand-wringing, the political infighting, the calls to cancel the project and redirect funds, progress marches steadily forward. The High-Speed Rail Authority is systematically and transparently working its way through full environmental clearance for the entire statewide system by the end of 2022 so that as continued funding becomes available, the state is ready to build.

What's not reported often is that this project is undertaking the largest environmental clearance effort in the country. The authority continues to make steady progress on this effort, with a schedule that shows they'll meet the federally mandated 2022 deadline.

Construction of the high-speed rail system is fully underway at 32 job sites across several counties along the first 119 miles of the system. This stretch will be the heart of the system and the testing ground for the nation's first electrified high-speed rail trains. As of this month, 4,000 men and women have been put to work on construction jobs in the Central Valley because of the high-speed rail project. Rather than joining the swollen ranks of unemployed Californians, these men and women are providing for themselves and their families and helping build California's future.

Here in the Bay Area, thanks to $700 million of investment from the High-Speed Rail Authority, Caltrain is already working on its part of the project: electrifying the Peninsula corridor. Ultimately, Caltrain will share tracks with high-speed rail trains for the ride between San Francisco and Gilroy. The High-Speed Rail Authority is also collaborating with local agencies to bring trains to the Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco and to reimagine the future of Diridon Station in San Jose.

This project is moving along, and contrary to recent reports, legislative oversight of the project has been consistent and ongoing. The state Senate and Assembly each appoint members to sit on the authority board and receive regular updates on the authority's plans and progress. The Legislature also holds final authority over release of bond funds, a major source of project funding.

Both sides of the aisle seem to agree that infrastructure projects are essential. Both sides agree that we need jobs. Yet somehow this infrastructure project, which is not only creating jobs but also connecting the major economic regions of our state — while tackling climate change, traffic and affordable housing — continues to remain controversial. The time is now to move forward on bringing this critical investment into reality.

These days the Golden Gate Bridge is an iconic symbol of San Francisco. And it's hard to imagine what Bay Area traffic would look like without BART. Someday, high-speed rail will hold a similar place in California's economy and vitality.

We can build things in California. It takes persistence, patience, political will, long-term vision and thoughtful public discourse. And it would help if we can all agree to drop the term "boondoggle" and start recognizing the progress that's happening right in our home state.

State Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) represents the 15th Senate District and is chair of the Transportation Committee. State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) represents the 11th Senate District and is chair of the Housing Committee. CalMatters is a Sacramento-based nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California's state Capitol works and why it matters. It works with more than 130 media partners throughout the state that have long, deep relationships with their local audiences, including The Almanac.

Comments

Robert
another community
on Jul 22, 2020 at 1:29 pm
Robert, another community
on Jul 22, 2020 at 1:29 pm
15 people like this

HSR will never reach San Francisco. It could reach San Jose (and that makes sense), but expecting it to share the tracks with Caltrain when most of the crossings on the Peninsula are at ground level with cars going by is just a fantasy. In order to make HSR to SF a reality, ALL the crossings have to be either elevated or tunnelled so that cars can't cross the tracks - and there are tons of cities (Atherton, for example) that are going to tie this up legally for years.


Observer
another community
on Jul 22, 2020 at 1:43 pm
Observer, another community
on Jul 22, 2020 at 1:43 pm
62 people like this

Senator Weiner continues to show his fundamental colors, that big brother government knows best what we plebeians want despite our protests otherwise. We can't speak loudly enough to convince his type that high speed rail in California is a total misfit and is costing us billions that are needed elsewhere. Just another example of his omnisicence that includes never-ending attempts to ram SB50 down the throats of citizens who wish to retain some semblance of local zoning control.


Whatever
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 22, 2020 at 2:31 pm
Whatever, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 22, 2020 at 2:31 pm
37 people like this

Typical white male Democrat politician making decisions based upon getting campaign money and votes from the construction unions.

Let's hope this costly money eating boondoggle does a quick and silent death.


Whatever
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 22, 2020 at 2:37 pm
Whatever, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 22, 2020 at 2:37 pm
9 people like this

I'm referring above to Beall and Wiener the authors of the "opinon" piece.


Concerned Citizen
another community
on Jul 22, 2020 at 3:42 pm
Concerned Citizen , another community
on Jul 22, 2020 at 3:42 pm
55 people like this

Jim Beall is not impartial, he sits on the High Speed Rail Board, and he knows exactly how corrupt and bad the project is.. He authored, 2018 Legislation SB 1172, allowing HSR to gift property away to companies like PG&E, by passing oversight of Dept. of General Services. While HSR was shamefully being uncovered in the audit, Mr. Beall was the Chairman of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, blatant conflict of interest!


Full Disclosure, Please
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 22, 2020 at 4:45 pm
Full Disclosure, Please, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 22, 2020 at 4:45 pm
41 people like this

@ Concerned Citizen. Appreciate you for bringing State Sen Beall's role as Ex Officio HSR Board Member to light.

@ Almanac. To better allow readers to understand the views of the writers, please revise the author's bios so readers don't need to view Comments to understand Sen Beall has a vested interest in HSR.


dana hendrickson
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 22, 2020 at 5:19 pm
dana hendrickson, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 22, 2020 at 5:19 pm
43 people like this

The state will never have the funding to build the complete system, it is not needed on the Peninsula, and cities and counties cannot pay for their share of grade separations.


Iris
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 22, 2020 at 8:17 pm
Iris, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 22, 2020 at 8:17 pm
26 people like this

I agree with Robert " It could reach San Jose (and that makes sense), but expecting it to share the tracks with Caltrain when most of the crossings on the Peninsula are at ground level with cars going by is just a fantasy. In order to make HSR to SF a reality, ALL the crossings have to be either elevated or tunnelled so that cars can't cross the tracks."

Some proponents of HSR being on the peninsula, like these two authors, want us to believe that HSR will be sharing the Caltrain tracks. They never bother to mention that the existing tracks and crossings cannot be used by both, and they don't describe the cost of redoing both tracks and crossings that could be shared, or the additional costs of redoing stations and of eminent domain.
Even worse, they don't share the information about what the ultimate speed of HSR on such shared tracks can possibly be in this corridor -- when shared -- with Caltrain, which has been needing itself to expand trains and frequency (pre-COVID-19). The time saved by HSR for this corridor on shared tracks will be a pittance obtained at a horrific cost. What is it, in total?
The authors paint a dishonest picture - dishonest because of omissions of critically important information. Shame on them.


Barbara
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 22, 2020 at 8:32 pm
Barbara, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 22, 2020 at 8:32 pm
19 people like this

I've often wondered why with a perfectly good train system between San jose and San Francisco - the high speed rail needs to share those tracks? It seems to me the homes along these same tracks should have some input. This land we call the Peninsula is narrow and fairly dense and already has more buildings/people that it was meant to hold. The money to bring HSR up the Peninsula isn't enough to add grade separations to the multiple crossings in each city. These would be needed to safely send the high speed rail through a very diverse and dense landcape. Other than sharing the tracks with CalTrain has anything else been discussed? It would seem that stopping in the more expansive area just south of San Jose proper and at that point connecting to Caltrain or Bart to go up the Peninsula or the East Bay would make a lot more sense. I hope the citizens will be kept informed and will have a chance to voice an opinion., especially if asked to help fund this folly.


morris brown
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 22, 2020 at 8:47 pm
morris brown, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 22, 2020 at 8:47 pm
54 people like this

If there was ever a project that earned the label boondoggle, the California High Speed rail project, is that project.

The project has not achieved and will not achieve any of its prime objectives as outlined in the Prop 1A (2008) state bond measure ($9.95 billion) 12 years ago.

Up till now it just continues to stumble along, ever revising costs upward, time lines longer and ridership projections falling.

It is truly only a “ make work project”, unneeded and becoming more and more obsolete as time passes, with newer technology such as “filling jobs remotely”, become the wave of the future.

The project had a $930 million Federal grant cancelled because of non-performance and incompetence?

After numerous poor results in oversight hearings over the years, the project reached a new low this spring, when the State Assembly passed HR-97. This resolution passed with bi partisan support from 63 of the 80 member Assembly, essentially withholds approval to issue the remaining over $4 billion of Prop 1A bonds, to fund its present plans.


Menlo Voter.
Menlo Park: other
on Jul 23, 2020 at 8:58 am
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
on Jul 23, 2020 at 8:58 am
47 people like this

More BS from corrupt California politicians. As Morris says, this is a "make work" project for labor unions and large construction contractors that have contributed heavily to these people over the years.

This project was sold on a pack of lies and the majority of voters in this state wouldn't vote for it again if given the chance. They realize they were lied to and this project will cost at least ten times more than they were told and not deliver what was promised.

Wonder why people continue to move out of the state?


Joseph E. Davis
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 23, 2020 at 12:08 pm
Joseph E. Davis, Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 23, 2020 at 12:08 pm
39 people like this

Is there any issue that Scott Wiener has been right on?


Mike
Atherton: other
on Jul 23, 2020 at 12:53 pm
Mike, Atherton: other
on Jul 23, 2020 at 12:53 pm
18 people like this

Please support CC-HSR to help refute the false promise and disingenuous arguments made by Senator Wiener. And to Mr. Davis, above, my answer is that I can't think of any.


Bob
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 23, 2020 at 10:14 pm
Bob, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 23, 2020 at 10:14 pm
24 people like this

Boondoggle plain and simple


Whatever
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 23, 2020 at 11:15 pm
Whatever, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 23, 2020 at 11:15 pm
6 people like this

I've got it. New name for Wahington DC football team.
The Washington Boondoggles.


Thomas Paine
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 24, 2020 at 10:39 am
Thomas Paine, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 24, 2020 at 10:39 am
31 people like this

Wieners opinion piece is a flat out, in your face, complete lie. Nothing he says about high speed is even remotely true other than there are 4,000 people wasting billions of dollars moving dirt from point a to point b in the Central Valley. The facts are the HSR project on the original bond issue ballot was a $33.7 billion system running from SF to San Diego with a branch to Sacramento. That same system today is estimated to cost $120-180 billion. To “reduce” costs they simply eliminated 80% of what was promised. As of today, HSR is spending $12 billion to build 100 miles of track through the Central Valley that will never be used by anyone. Even Amtrak says no thanks. They have managed to destroy hundreds of small businesses and rip apart family farms in the Valley to build their track. Better to pay those 4,000 people not to work than to continue with this madness. Why do they keep doing building it? A few moments studying Wiener’s campaign contribution statement tells the story.


Conscience
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 24, 2020 at 12:56 pm
Conscience, Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 24, 2020 at 12:56 pm
2 people like this

I hope that all of those who are commenting about HSR here will strongly advocate that the two counties ( Santa Clara County and San Francisco) that are trying to derail the 1/8 sales tax to fund Caltrain cease and desist. Put the 1/8 cent sales tax on the ballot and let the voters of the three counties decide if they want to support continued service of Caltrain. The two counties (SCC and SFC) are holding San Mateo County and Caltrain hostage over "governance" issues that can be addressed at a later time. Now is the time to save Caltrain.


Awatkins
Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jul 24, 2020 at 1:25 pm
Awatkins, Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Jul 24, 2020 at 1:25 pm
21 people like this

Judging from the near unanimity of the comments it looks like the authors underestimated the readers’ intelligence. Question is, why do these guys get re-elected?


Martin Engel
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 24, 2020 at 4:15 pm
Martin Engel, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 24, 2020 at 4:15 pm
25 people like this

First of all, I agree with all the commenters who have expressed strong objections to this project. Some of us have been critical of this 'expensive-toy-for-bureaucrats' even before the passage of Prop. 1A in 2008. Not to repeat all the highly appropriate concerns already mentioned in these comments, here is another one:

What are the most expensive train tickets you can buy, anywhere in the word? You guessed it; high-speed rail. They all are luxury trains, the icing on fully developed railroad systems. (Even in Communist China!) Prop. 1A requires that no public tax dollars will be used to subsidize the operation of this train (if indeed it ever gets built). That will not be possible. Only one or two HSR services (Japan) are profitable. All the others, throughout the world, require immense operational subsidies. Even as ticket prices will be far higher than now forecast, the costs of system operation will require massive permanent subsidies. That is why no private train operators are stepping forward to invest or seek to manage this boondoggle. They understand a money loser when they see one. There can be no dispute that everything related to this project will get more expensive each and every day, and that means both capital development and operating costs.

So, we are being asked to support an affluent HSR ridership with public tax dollars so that they can take their private school kids to Disneyland. You better believe that this will be a train for the executive well-to-do few, not for the working class many.

Last point: We are in the midst of a major crisis. Not only the coronavirus Pandemic, but an economic depression from which recovery will take years. There can be no worse time economically to continue this luxury project than now and into the foreseeable future.





Iris
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 25, 2020 at 3:43 pm
Iris, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 25, 2020 at 3:43 pm
4 people like this

I would like to see data from the authors about the incremental cost of adding HSR to the Caltrain corridor, the additional volume of passengers carried (incremental above what Caltrain alone could carry), and the resulting average, combined speed of getting from SJ to SF with comparisons to what Caltrain alone could do. Details and sources, too, please. Their claims simply are not credible.


Menlo Voter.
Menlo Park: other
on Jul 25, 2020 at 7:41 pm
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
on Jul 25, 2020 at 7:41 pm
10 people like this

Iris:

I hope you're not holding your breath. Those trying to promote HSR are woefully lacking in facts and data to back up anything they say. Because the foundation is a bunch of lies.


Johnson Maynes
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 25, 2020 at 10:39 pm
Johnson Maynes, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 25, 2020 at 10:39 pm
13 people like this

Wish I had put on my hip boots before wading through Beall and Wiener’s BS. These guys are dreaming of a future that can never be. It’s frightening that we have elected people this out of touch with reality.


Ahem
another community
on Jul 26, 2020 at 8:45 pm
Ahem, another community
on Jul 26, 2020 at 8:45 pm
12 people like this

@Conscience & Iris,

Caltrain is dead and it is not coming back.

The pandemic has changed everything. People understand germ theory better than Caltrain management and are avoiding Caltrain like the plague. Even if we find a Covid-19 vaccine or develop herd immunity, Caltrain is ill-adapted and totally unprepared to deal with the next deadly pandemic.

Caltrain ridership is down 95-97%. Most of the people who used to ride Caltrain have already purchased automobiles and have become accustomed to the convenience, utility, and safety they offer. Many others have discovered tele-work and no longer need Caltrain to commute.

Postponing the Caltrain tax is not enough. We need emergency legislation to claw back the funds already allocated to this dead-end transportation technology. The recovered funds should be used to aid people who need help purchasing an automobile and to buy ride-share passes for people who are unable to drive.


John Pimentel
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jul 28, 2020 at 1:23 pm
John Pimentel, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jul 28, 2020 at 1:23 pm
6 people like this

A simple solution exists to the quagmire of HSR -- REALLOCATION. Stop torching money on the redundant and useless "Central Valley Line" and reallocate all remaining funds to grade separation projects on existing regional rail lines such as Caltrain, ACE and Metrolink. Local distribution systems like Dumbarton Rail could also be funded by reallocation. Without reallocation by the Legislature, $12-20 billion will be wasted in the Central Valley. Rather, reallocating these funds could yield significant benefits in regional mobility, air quality and safety for our metro areas. Separating the 42 at-grade rail crossings between San Jose and San Francisco creates real benefits, including construction jobs, TODAY, instead of hoping another few hundred billion materializes to create an intercity system. By the way, the likely competitive reaction to a LA-SF HSR system if it is ever built in this Century? Airlines keep selling $39 tickets for the 1 hour flight... Reallocation is an easy solution to reverse a well-intentioned, but poorly conceived and horribly executed government decision.


Ed Kahl
Woodside: other
on Jul 30, 2020 at 2:27 pm
Ed Kahl, Woodside: other
on Jul 30, 2020 at 2:27 pm
2 people like this

According to a letter in the Almanac from two State senators (7/17/20), there is “progress” on the high speed rail infrastructure project from Modesto to Bakersfield. They characterize the $20 billion spending as a test of the HSR.

There is simply no need to spend $100’s of billons on a high speed rail system when one can fly to LA in an hour for far less than a HSR train ticket. No one knows if a tunnel can even be built through the fault-riddled Tehachapi Mountains let alone what it would cost. Finally, HSR would require huge annual subsidies due to low ridership.

Other higher priority projects include spending on underperforming schools, increasing wild land fire protection, repairing our highways, resolving our water crisis, building high speed mass transit to get people to affordable housing, and addressing runaway public pension fund costs.


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