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Author of high-speed-rail bill says state needs to get on track

In an era of term-limited elected officials, key decision-makers and all
responsible public officials need to provide the leadership on California’s
21st century “golden spike,” introducing high-speed trains, traveling 200
miles per hour from Los Angeles to San Francisco–and later to San Diego,
Sacramento and Orange County.

The California high-speed-rail project has languished, taking a back seat to
the supposed immediacy of building California roads, highways and airports.

Filling campaign coffers to fund infrastructure projects outlined in bond
measures seems to motivate business and labor interests, earning those
projects a natural ascension to the top of the political wish-list.

Established in 1996 by legislation I sponsored as a state senator, the
California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) is officially directed to plan,
design, construct, and operate a modern high-speed-train system. While the
CHSRA has been woefully understaffed and is short on funding, an executive
and legislative shift seems to be occurring. The encouraging signals from
the current state administration, with its European-born chief executive,
indicate Governor Schwarzenegger recognizes the monumental project as
essential to satisfy travel demands of California’s surging population.

In signing the 2006-2007 Budget Act, Governor Schwarzenegger approved
funding for the Authority’s entire requested appropriation of $14,300,000,
thus ensuring CHSRA’s continuation of critical work in 2006-2007. That
single act, together with the initiative of senators Don Perata and Dean
Florez and other public luminaries along the first alignment route from San
Francisco to Los Angeles, invest the project with an overdue vitality.

The provision of $14,300,000 enables the commencement of project
implementation. Activities funded in 2006-2007 include: completion of a
financial plan, project-management selection, identification of critical
right-of-way acquisitions, and development of a simulator for
planning-system operation and public information. The Budget Act
appropriates $9,000,000 expressly for detailed project design and related
environmental studies. Such funding allows the CHSRA to advance necessary
aspects of the project. Voters must still authorize $9.95 billion bond
funding for the project in November, 2008, pursuant to AB 713 (Torrico).

High-speed-rail supporters also must lift high-speed rail from merely an
important project to an essential one in the corridors of power in
Sacramento. There’s plenty to attract environmentalists, business, labor,
and “smart growth” planners. A high-speed-train system can decrease
dependency on foreign oil, preserve energy, decrease air pollutants, and
discourage sprawl into farmlands and open space. The high-speed-train system
can be utilized to manage growth, create transit-oriented developments and
preserve our valuable agricultural land. With fully electrified train
tracks, high-speed trains will improve air quality throughout the state, a
fact that should affect politicians and voters during the “dog days” of
summer.

Review of the environmental, safety and technological aspects of high-speed
rail shows numerous promise. Now add the price of gasoline, and, perhaps,
after a decade of earnest, conscientious work by the CHSRA and supporters,
high-speed rail is ready for broader embrace.

Senator Florez has inspired legislation for a joint legislative committee to
examine those very issues. The consequent hearings should draw leaders from
industry, labor, and the environment movement, as well as international
companies to discuss proven public-private partnerships in over 40 countries
and constitute a proverbial “springboard” for gubernatorial candidates in
their quest to lead California into the future. Let’s not wait for Albania,
Slovenia and Mexico to beat us.


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