Commentary: High-speed rail will meet future needs

I read the recent commentary about high-speed rail by Newport Beach City Councilman Keith Curry in my hometown newspaper, and I'd like to share my response ("Commentary: High-speed rail project is a train wreck," March 23).

Curry indicates he was the financial advisor to high-speed rail 15 years ago, and I thank him for his service to the project. I would like to point out that since 1999 we've added several thousand lane miles to our freeways, new terminals at Los Angeles International, John Wayne and Ontario airports, as well as millions of residents, but we are still faced with congestion that puts pollution in the air and takes time away from our families and money out of the economy.

Voters in 2008 understood that these and other challenges facing the state were stagnating our economy and passed Proposition 1A to construct the nation's first high-speed rail system. Since then we have advanced the planning of the high-speed rail project, and I assure Mr. Curry that we are advancing a state-of-the-art, 200-plus mile-per-hour, zero-emission passenger rail service capable of transforming California as other key projects have in the past, including the Golden Gate Bridge and the University of California system.

California is the eighth-largest economy in the world but we have not kept up with other countries when it comes to passenger rail service. California's current population of 38 million is expected to hit 50 million by 2050. The California Department of Transportation estimates that operating and maintaining new highway lanes to serve the population would cost more than $132 billion over the next 50 years, or more than twice the cost of the high-speed rail project. Couple this cost with a millennial generation that is coming of age in a world where connectivity to the World Wide Web is equal to, or more important than, connectivity to a steering wheel, and it's clear high-speed rail is a good fit for our future.

Today's high-speed rail project still connects the state's major cities, still enables passengers to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco at a price well below the cost of air travel, is still capable of operating without subsidy and will still deliver passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in less than three hours. However, today's high-speed rail plans contain an additional level of detail gained through the project-development process that was not available in 1999 or even in 2008.

Based on new detailed plans, the authority's draft 2014 business plan estimates the cost of the high-speed rail project to be $67.6 billion — slightly lower than the 2012 Business Plan estimates and higher ridership forecasts than previously projected in the 2012, as well. There are no plans to raise taxes or take money away from schools or other state priorities to fund the project.

We do have plans to use a mix of federal, state, local and private funding and have identified a substantial amount of capital, in addition to Proposition 1A funds already, including:

• $300 million proposed by the governor from cap and trade proceeds targeted for rail modernization ($250 million for high-speed rail and $50 million for other passenger rail services). The governor has also proposed committing 33% of cap and trade after 2015, to facilitate future phases of construction.

• $3.3 billion of federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Grant funds directed to the high-speed rail project.

•Between $6 billion and $12 billion in capital from the private sector identified in the 2014 business plan as potential investment, once operation of the first phase is underway.

This is not 1999, and Californians cannot meet the future without more and better transportation options. High-speed rail is one piece of a broader statewide rail modernization program that will help us meet our future head on — and get home for dinner on-time.

MICHELLE BOEHM is the Southern California regional director for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

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