May 4, 2004 - From the August, 2003 issue

Former Senator Jim Costa Champions North/South High Speed Rail Bond on Next Nov's Ballot

In November 2004, state voters will have the opportunity to approve a $10 billion bond measure to support the initial construction of a high-speed rail line from LA to San Francisco. MIR is pleased to present the following interview with Jim Costa, Campaign Chair, Californians for Safe, Reliable High-Speed Rail, in which he discusses the details of the bond measure, potential route of a high-speed rail line, and the obstacles still in the way of this project.

Jim Costa

Jim, the push for high-speed rail in California is starting to gain some momentum, and the potential of a $10 billion bond measure looms in the fall of 2004. Give us your thoughts on the need, necessity, and practicality of high-speed rail in California.

Well, we've got approximately 35 million people living in California today and, by the year 2030, we're going to have another 15-to-17 million more. If we're going to continue to keep the economy moving and accommodate the expected population growth, we're going to need a 21st century system of transportation. High speed rail, together with our freeway system and our air transportation system, will allow Californians to truly have a 21st century system of transportation that will accommodate the population growth that everybody acknowledges will happen.

Is the price tag for high-speed rail too large for the public to digest and support?

No. When you look at the multi-billion dollar expansion and renovation of San Francisco International Airport, the amount of money we put into our roads systems every year, and the amount of money that we put into other means of transportation, the price of high-speed is not all that staggering. The total cost over fifteen years of a 700-mile system that will go 200 miles per hour or faster is $ 25 billion dollars. This is well within the range of the money that we're spending for other transportation-related projects. The fact is that this will not only provide us with an enhancement to our existing transportation system, but this is also an economic stimulus package. As many as 300,000 new jobs will be created as a result of this construction program. And, for every dollar that is spent on high-speed rail, we believe that there will be at least two dollars in return in the ripple effect that it will have on the economy.

Who will be the likely stakeholders and who must be the stakeholders coalescing around and supporting this bold rail project if it's to have any chance of being successfully built?

We've got to have an active coalition, a bipartisan coalition of business, labor, and environmental groups. With that active coalition, over the course of the next seventeen months we can build the sort of broad-based support throughout the state of California required to pass the bond measure that will be in the November 2004. It may be that the "Californians for Safe, Reliable High-Speed Rail" measure is the only bond measure on that ballot.

On what will the proposed high-speed rail bond money be spent?

It's broken down into two areas: $9 million is to finance the first phase of high speed rail between San Francisco and Los Angeles through the central valley; the second part of the funding, the $950 million, will go to transit agencies throughout California. These agencies include: Metrolink, the Orange County and San Diego transit systems, Riverside and San Bernardino systems in Southern California, as well as Caltrans and BART up in the Bay Area. Two hundred million of the $950 million is set aside to improve existing inner-city rail service. The San Diego-Los Angeles corridor, the second busiest corridor in the nation, will get $48.5 million dollars of that, as will other corridors. Corridors that are able to expend all their money for either new train sets, improvements in train stations, or other kinds of amenities that will benefit the existing inner-city service can apply to the California Transportation Commission for another $48.5 million.

If you were making the pitch on this bond measure to a business group-a chamber of commerce, an economic development corporation board-what would be the bullet points in your presentation? How would you sell it?


I would start off as I did here, by noting that the state is inevitably going to grow in population over the next 25 years. For this reason, it's clear that we can't build enough freeways, nor provide enough additional air transportation to relieve the current seven airports that are already at capacity and have a number of issues within their communities vis a vis expansion-whether we're talking about John Wayne, LAX, or Burbank. Attempts to expand to another airport in Orange County have been met with stiff opposition. High- speed rail will not replace these systems of transportation, but enhance and complement them to create a true inter-city, inter-modal transportation system. This simply means that you can use one of the means of transportation to get from A to B, and transfer to the other mode of transportation to get from B to C, whether it be for business or recreation. That's what an integrated system of transportation is all about.

Fresno is one of the few metropolitan areas not now on an interstate highway. Has Fresno paid a price for being off of the interstate highway network? If so, is high-speed rail the solution?

It's paid a big price in terms of the economy, our ability to attract additional regional companies, and in terms of our ability to get additional conventions and hotels. All of those areas have been impacted. Having a high-speed rail stop in downtown Fresno will go a long way towards changing that.

Although the EIR is not out until later this year, what is the contemplated route, in phases?

The first stage would be San Francisco-Los Angeles-San Francisco down to San Jose, San Jose cutting across the coastal range mountains to Merced, and Merced down 99 to Bakersfield. South of Bakersfield, we have yet to determine whether to go across the Grapevine or to go around the Tehachapis. That decision will be made later this year.

MIR will follow this issue over the next year, but what do you now anticipate the opposition's argument to the bond will be next November?

I suspect they'll look at costs. However, when you look at the cost comparisons with other forms of transportation, that argument can be refuted very easily. There may be those who argue that we shouldn't subsidize the infrastructure of high-speed rail, but I think that can be refuted easily. Every system of transportation in the United States over the past 200 years has been subsidized to one degree or another-our canal system in the 18th century, the transcontinental railroads in the 19th century, air transportation in the 20th century, our freeway system during the Eisenhower administration, and our ports and harbors. Every system of transportation in the history of this country has been subsidized to significant degrees. Why should high-speed rail be any different?



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