Editorial: HSR to be economic bonanza for Merced and Valley
- Published Wednesday, November 12, 2008, by the Merced Sun-Star
A high-speed future awaits
Passage of rail bond will mean an economic bonanza for Merced, the
The passage of Proposition 1A on Election Day means the future of
high-speed rail in California has really begun.
A new business report released Friday by the California High-Speed
Rail Authority shows us the outlines of that future.
The plan estimates that when the first leg of the system is up and
running -- between Southern California and the Bay Area, by way of
Merced and the Valley -- the high-speed trains will generate more
than $1 billion annually in excess revenue.
That money can be used to repay construction bonds, expand and
improve the system or to pay dividends to the private investors
who will help build it.
It will also help fund the second phase of the project, running
south to San Diego and north to Sacramento from Merced.
The first phase is expected to cost around $33 billion by the time
it's finished. The second phase will add another $12 billion or so
to the final cost of construction.
It will take about two years before actual construction starts.
Detailed plans must be finalized and right-of-way acquired along
the 800-mile route. Rail officials are limited in the amount of
bond money from Proposition 1A that can be spent before federal
and private funding sources are identified.
Prospects for that funding are good, despite the gloomy economic
situation we currently face. There is a growing bipartisan consensus
in Congress that favors passenger rail development, including high-
speed rail. President-elect Barack Obama is an outspoken supporter
of high-speed rail.
Public infrastructure projects such as high-speed rail are sure to
be at the forefront of any economic stimulus efforts out of
Washington in the coming weeks. Putting people to work is the best
way to stimulate spending, and thus recovery, when economies are in
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a powerful voice in Washington, said Wednesday
that "There is legislation that will set up 11 regional systems in
the U.S. for high-speed rail, and we will qualify as one of them. I
think we've now got our ducks in order to be No. 1 on that list, and
as an appropriater, that will be a job of mine."
In addition, some 40 companies, many of them worldwide giants,
responded to the the rail authority's Request for Expressions of
Interest last spring. Some of that interest, no doubt, has waned
since the global economic meltdown began, but there are sure to be
private companies willing to follow where state and federal funds
The Valley stands to prosper most from this project. Many of the
160,000 construction jobs generated by high-speed rail will go to
The first track is expected to connect Bakersfield and Merced, and
will be used to test and certify the trains and cars that are chosen
for the system.
Air quality improvements -- the trains will reduce carbon dioxide
emissions by 12 billion pounds per year and the state's reliance on
fossil fuel by 12.7 million barrels of oil per year -- will be felt
most in the Valley.
The trains will induce growth, but it will be the sort of growth we
need: clustered around the downtown station, not sprawling out toward
the horizon in every direction.
Voters may have taken a leap of faith in approving Proposition 1A,
but in a few years it will seem like a sure bet.