Calif. high-speed rail: Complete the job and build it right!

The XpressWest high-speed rail project, to connect Nevada’s Las Vegas to California’s Victorville and beyond, has an anticipated winter 2020-’21 construction start date, with a ’23-’24 projected begin operations/service date. The line, some 180 miles long – 135 miles of which will be in the Golden State – has a $5 billion building-cost estimate. XpressWest is a private enterprise.

The California high-speed rail endeavor, on the other hand, at 520 miles in length connecting San Francisco with Los Angeles and Anaheim, is a public property approved by a majority of state voters, way back in 2008. At that time, it had an estimated cost of $33 billion, rising to a high of $98 billion in the 2010s before settling back to approximately $80 billion where it remains today.

People have been critical and skeptical, some even going so far as to opine that California is incapable of getting major infrastructure projects done anymore. They cite managerial or oversight irresponsibility, litigation, cost overruns, delays all as factors.

In his latest rebuke, meanwhile, Dan Walters, a political analyst at, with what he refers to as the California bullet train “boondoggle,” cites Los Angeles Times reporter Ralph Vartabedian who suggested the state cut its losses and abandon it. Imagine what the outcome would be if sentiment like that regarding completing the new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge had carried the day. What California and its citizens would have been left with is a crumbling and decrepit original eastern bridge span, perhaps repairable, perhaps not.

Cut the losses and walk away … pooh! To put it bluntly, not a good idea.

With some 100 miles of Calif. high-speed rail right-of-way cleared and with construction work and high-speed train-related infrastructure either in progress or already built at more than 30 locations up and down the San Joaquin Valley, walking away just doesn’t jibe in pragmatic terms and wouldn’t bode well presumably where construction of future in-state mega-projects are concerned.

Firstly, 4,000 good-paying contractor jobs would fall by the wayside just like that! Not to mention positions indirectly tied would, at the very minimum be negatively affected. Local economies would feel the pain, most assuredly.

Secondly, the infrastructure already built and in place would have been all for naught. Such completed projects include the State Route 180 trenching work, San Joaquin River viaduct, overpasses at Tuolumne, Clinton and Ashlan avenues, Ashlan-to-Clinton avenues’ coupled State Route 99 relocation work, northwest Fresno pergola building plus all of the affiliated below- and above-ground utility relocation, soil testing and all preparatory effort would have all been in vain. And, this, just in the city of Fresno. Think about the time involved or dedicated to those alone.

Finally, by not having an alternative to driving, flying and conventional train travel, just means the state in general and San Joaquin Valley in particular, especially its southern section, would be without clean, efficient, fast, safe, convenient, electrified high-speed-rail service, the Valley’s looking at a future of more of the same ol’, same ol’ horrid, lung-searing, seemingly intractable, ugly air pollution the likes of which is not typically experienced anywhere else in the U.S.

Cutting losses and ties, no – that’s not gonna fly. Complete the work, do it right, move ahead and don’t look back.

Remember the early engineers who built the aqueducts, viaducts, highways, byways, railways and more? What if they had thrown in the towel and just walked away? Where would we have been then and where would we be now?

On the high-speed rail building front California cannot afford to not finish what it started. Shameful, inexcusable it would be to not do that.

Image above: Roger Puta

– Alan Kandel

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