No. 1 with a bullet train
The “cash for clunkers” program is over, so if you weren’t in the market for a car during its summer run, tough luck. But for Californians, all is not lost. Thanks to the foresight of voters, we’re poised to receive a big portion of federal transportation dollars being doled out under another stimulus program, this one for bullet trains.
Last November, voters passed a bond measure approving $9.95 billion to fund a high-speed train line from San Diego to Sacramento. They couldn’t have known it then, but the timing was fortuitous. Months later, as part of the stimulus package, Congress dedicated $8 billion to pay for high-speed rail projects across the country. California is the only state where voters have already approved funding for a bullet train, and it has the most state-of-the-art proposal, with the most planning work completed, in the nation. Because the funding is meant to stimulate the economy as quickly as possible, officials at the Federal Railroad Administration are expected to give priority to applicants that can start hammering rail spikes soon. So when the California High-Speed Rail Authority submitted its application on Friday, it had powerful arguments on its side.
Given the scale of the authority’s ambitions, it’s going to need every advantage it can get. The bullet train is projected to cost $40 billion, and there’s a good chance the price tag will be higher. With state bonds covering at most a quarter of the cost, planners are relying on federal money and private capital for the rest -- and so far, no private investors have materialized. The authority is applying for $4.7 billion of the $8-billion federal pot, yet there will be heavy political pressure to spread the money across a broad geographical region rather than giving so much to a single state. Even so, there are strong reasons to award California an outsized share.
It is undeniably parochial for The Times to argue that Washington should send tax money to California for a project that would boost the local economy. But nobody has to take our word that the Golden State should be first in line. In addition to the timing considerations, there is the important matter of ridership -- for the rail program to be successful, it should focus on projects that can move the most people. America 2050, a Washington-based public planning think tank, studied regions with the highest potential ridership for high-speed rail, ranking them by city pairs (routes between two cities). A line connecting New York and Washington was ranked the highest, but three of the top 10 city pairs would be connected by California’s bullet train, including L.A. to San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose. If federal officials want the most bang for their stimulus buck, they should look west.