High Speed Rail Is Almost Within Our Collective Grasp

While
California and the rest of the nation continue to ride out the worst
economic storm since the Great Depression, both President Barack Obama
and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger know one thing — getting Golden State
residents back on their feet and on the job is critical to turning
things around.

Here
in the California, rebuilding our aging infrastructure has to be Job
One.

After years of delayed and cancelled maintenance, our roads,
bridges and sewers are falling apart around us and are
starting to become threats to public safety.

Ironically,
the very job of rebuilding our infrastructure may end up being the key
to reviving our state’s large and complex economy.

Thankfully,
the president and the governor are aware that we need to go way beyond
just fixing up what’s broken out there. We need to take on those
projects that will transform our culture and economy well into the 21st
Century.

One such “transformative” project will be the creation of a high speed rail system in California.

It
was gratifying last November to see Californians come together to
support Prop. 1A, which gave permission to sell some $9 billion in
bonds to help pay for the project’s initial San Francisco to Los
Angeles phase.

Slated to be a
“public-private” partnership, the system has already banked $100
million in funds, making it practically “shovel-ready.”

Moreover, with the passage of Prop. 1A last fall, California High Speed Rail Authority
officials say they are now in the best position of all similar state
authorities to secure the biggest share of the $8 billion in federal
transportation stimulus funds the Obama Administration has set aside.

“California
is farthest along in building one of the few true high-speed train
projects in the nation, one delivering 220-mile-an-hour service between
the state’s major cities,” said Quentin Kopp, chairman of the rail
authority’s board of directors. “And we’re the only state that already
has invested $100 million in the critical work needed to get the system
up and running. We’re far ahead of any other state in the nation.”

While
the idea of bringing high speed rail to the Golden State has languished
on the back burner for many years now, the project has finally been
shoved to the front of the stove and has now some high BTU’s under it.

Aside
from the great transportation, environmental and economic promise of
high speed rail, the system’s construction phase alone will require the
hiring of thousands of construction workers, architects, engineers and
craftspeople which will constitute a boon to our flagging economy. Rail authority officials project that the system will generate $1 billion in revenues to the state, annually.

But
even if that ambitious goal falls short, each station by itself will
likely turn into a little economic engine — stimulating all kinds of
local real estate and commercial development.

Californians
were wise to support Prop. 1A last fall. Now, we just need the
fortitude (and patience) to see it through. The wait will be worth it.

Jeff Mitchell is a longtime California journalist and political observer.