Thursday, November 3, 2011

Which is better for the Democrats, the high-speed trains or expanded highways and runways?

Since the release of the new business plan, the following BS in the article below has been quoted and misquoted so often it bears commenting on.

When the HSR costs were $43 billion, the supposedly far less desirable alternative of having to expand highways and runways was priced at the much higher $70 billion.  This was marketed as the cost to all of us if we "naysayers" rejected the "less costly" HSR project.

Now that the HSR costs have skyrocketed (as we predicted for several years now) to nearly $100 billion, note that this far less desirable alternative -- more runways and highways -- has also climbed in cost to $170 billion. How did that happen?  Or, phrased more pointedly, why did that happen?  You know! The bad alternative had to cost more than the panacea rolling wonder of high-speed rail. So, they fixed it the costs of the highways upward to exceed even the new price for HSR.

All the rail authority numbers are malarkey.  But, here's an interesting different perspective.  First of all, what the rail authority postulates as an alternative; that is, an alternative to building their HSR train, presumably would accomplish the same thing as the train; that is, relieving highways and runways of all that excess traffic. 

Furthermore, like the train, it wouldn't have to be built all at once, but could be developed over time.  Isn't that what the HSR guys are now proposing? Isn't it also their argument that although the costs are now higher, they would be spread out over time, just like the highway and runway expansion.

And if the costs are greater for highways and runways, there's an upside.  One of the biggest attractions for the High-Speed Rail supporters, starting with the President, Sect. of Trans. Ray LaHood, and our Governor, is the jobs creation power of this project. 

Jobs appears to be more important than solving transportation problems. In that case, the more expensive alternative would create far more jobs than the HSR project.  Isn't that right?  There would be more jobs for $170 billion worth of projects than this one $100 billion project. 

As it happens, we're very good at building highways and runways, and have by several orders of magnitude more than China or any other country. But, they're deteriorating and need to be fixed.  This is something, unlike building high-speed rail, we know how to do.  And the stimulus dollars would stay in the US, not get sent overseas.

And those highway and runway jobs would be far more distributed across California, and are certainly more shovel-ready than the train, which, as we now know, will take until 2033 to become operational.

Certainly cars and airplanes will be far environmentally cleaner and consume far less carbon fuel than they do now by 2033. So, fellow Democrats and high-speed rail advocates, which is really the preferred alternative? A pie-in-the-sky train that will never be completed, or upgrading and expanding our highways and airports?

I would argue, using the rail authority's proposition and 'facts', that their less desirable alternative, building more highways and runways, is, in fact, by far the better option.

Transit choice: $98.5B for high-speed rail vs. $170B for roads, runways
Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal by David Goll, Reporter
 Last Modified: Tuesday, November 1, 2011, 4:55pm PDT

David Goll
Reporter - Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal

Building a high-speed train in California is now expected to cost nearly double previous projections, coming in at an estimated $98.5 billion to build over the next 22 years.

But city mayors, including San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said the upgrades to highways, airports and other transportation critical for the future development and jobs will cost almost double the current $98.5 billion price tag on the bullet train.

In a statement Reed said, “More than 105,000 construction-related jobs for the San Jose to San Francisco route alone (would be created), and hundreds of thousands more jobs from the San Jose to Merced section.”

During a Sacramento press conference Tuesday, Tom Umberg, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority    board of directors, said the escalating costs of high-speed rail still pales in comparison to the $170 billion needed to add 2,300 lane-miles of freeway, four additional airport runways and 115 airline gates to accommodate the state’s increasing transportation needs.

The 800-mile rail network connecting the Bay Area and Sacramento with Southern California is being overseen by the Rail Authority. Original cost estimates for the project were about $43 billion. The timetable for completion of service between the Bay Area and Los Angeles has been pushed back from 2020 to 2033.

The higher costs and delayed construction schedule will give ammunition to high-speed rail critics who say cash-strapped California can ill-afford to build the nation’s largest-ever public works project.

Dan Richard, a former member of the BART board of directors recently appointed to the Rail Authority’s board, said the initial phase of the project will generate 100,000 jobs.

The system, he said, would be built in segments. He said no more money is needed for the next three years to build the initial 130-mile line in the San Joaquin Valley, but additonial sources of state and federal funding will be needed for the next segment. That would either be built toward San Jose or Los Angeles.

The federal government has provided $2.2 billion in funding but the dollars would be lost if the project doesn’t begin by September of next year.

David Goll covers commercial real estate, retail, economic development and transportation at the Business Journal. His phone number is 408.299.1853.

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