Gov. Gavin Newsom made it clear in an interview with The Bee’s Editorial Board that he will oppose any attempts by Southern California and Bay Area legislators to take money from the high-speed-rail project and divert it to rail systems in their region.
Meeting with the editorial board Friday after his keynote address at the California Economic Summit, Newsom was quick to say he would be “pushing back” on any shifting of funds out of high-speed rail to commuter systems in the metropolitan areas of the coast.
That is welcome news, given that the epicenter for high-speed rail has been the central San Joaquin Valley, chiefly Madera and Fresno counties. The large bridges and other structures that are to carry the high-speed trains are under construction here, and one fear has been that if the project went unfinished, those structures would stand as a Stonehenge-like reminder to state futility on the bullet train.
Valley vision remains
Newsom’s passion for the initial operating segment of the rail network shows he won’t let that happen. His vision remains what he outlined last January in his first State of the State address: a 171-mile-long segment between Merced and Bakersfield that will serve to demonstrate the project’s viability to investors and the federal government.
Running high-speed trains on that segment, Newsom hopes, will create interest in private investors for connecting high-speed rail to existing train systems that go to the Bay Area and Los Angeles. The overarching vision is for high-speed rail to run electric trains from the Bay Area to Southern California.
The initial segment in the Valley costs $20 billion, and the rail authority has that money in hand. Ultimate buildout is projected at nearly $80 billion, and all the money for that remains to be secured.
Jobs generator in Valley
Detractors of high-speed-rail are many. Many conservatives oppose it. Parochial lawmakers want funding for their pet transportation projects.
But The Bee’s Editorial Board has said the new concept of high-speed-rail put forth by Newsom — a Valley system of bullet trains connecting to traditional rail lines to the Bay Area, and ultimately Southern California — would help transform the Valley’s economy and culture. That continues to be The Bee’s view.
High-speed rail has been a major jobs generator for the San Joaquin Valley. The rail authority reports that in the 2017-18 fiscal year, 9,400 full-time jobs were created statewide by the project; many of them were in the Valley. In Fresno County, half of the jobs added in that year were related to high-speed rail; 30 percent were directly tied to it. Fresno has enjoyed low unemployment in the last year; high-speed rail construction jobs are a healthy contributor.
Project moving forward
Newsom also noted that the project reached a significant milestone Friday when it announced that almost all the environmental review for the Valley segment has been completed. The only area left to study in the Valley is the Chowchilla Wye.
Speaking of the Valley segment, “let us do something demonstrable, real, transformative to this part of the state and do justice to the promise to the taxpayers,” Newsom said.
That will spur private investment, much like how Taiwan got its high-speed train up and running. Private investors helped jump-start Taiwan’s program. Last year the Taiwan high-speed railroad handled 64 million passengers.
Here is hoping California’s rail authority can have such good fortune. Linking the state’s metro areas through the spine of the Valley would indeed be transformative.