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Why you should embrace the $68-billion California bullet train project

Nations with high-speed rail have seen their economies improve as a result of drawing cities closer together

It felt as if it was never going to happen. But California's long-awaited bullet train project finally broke ground this month. The initial leg is to carry passengers from the Central Valley to Los Angeles County, with an ultimate goal of connecting the cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Conservatives are still complaining that the project is too expensive. At $68 billion — and, government being government, you know there will be overruns — it certainly isn't going to be cheap.

Republicans also say it will take too long, or perhaps wind up incomplete because of future budget shortfalls. That reminds me of the old joke about a restaurant: such terrible food, and such small servings!

Such naysayers, opponents of progress, have been with us since the first caveperson suggested that humans might find the outside world more pleasant because it’s relatively free of bears, or the first proto-hominid thought of jumping down to the ground from the trees. Why fix anything, even if it is kind of broken?

Opponents of high-speed rail are against something the rest of the world has already embraced, and found extremely valuable. Nations with high-speed rail include France, Japan and China — and their economies have improved as a result of drawing their cities closer together. When I was a kid, travel from Paris to Strasbourg on the German border took the better part of a day. Now it's two hours by bullet train, making it possible for Parisians to take a meeting at EU offices and be home for an early dinner.

Mass transit creates economic opportunity where none previously existed. I used to assume that the planners of New York City's subway system placed stations at major streets. In fact, areas around subways became hubs of business activity because the subway was there.

Aside from the expense, it is also true that many Californians won't be alive to ride the train from L.A. to San Francisco, or vice versa. But, hey, that's true about lots of big projects. The Chinese worked on the Great Wall for generations. You're living on territory we wouldn't even know about if not for the fact that Queen Isabella bankrolled a ridiculous attempt to find a passage to India in 1492.

If nothing else, high-speed rail opponents should revel in the estimated 66,000 jobs to be created by the construction project. We need those jobs. And our children and grandchildren will need that train, which is already way late.

More cartoons by Ted Rall.

Follow Ted Rall on Twitter @tedrall

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