Washington listened, learned, acted on rail money

In November 2008, a broad-based coalition of business, labor, environmental, sustainable transit and youth groups joined to urge voters to invest in California’s future. Even in a difficult economic climate, the voters responded by securing almost $10 billion as a down payment to develop and build California high-speed rail.

The voters understood clearly the need for a transportation alternative for California. The simple facts are more and more compelling each year. California’s population continues to grow. By 2030, it’s expected to reach 50 million, doubling inter-regional travel demand to more than 1 billion trips annually. High-speed rail is an environmentally friendly and economically viable solution to this demand, and a technology proven throughout the world.

Now, the federal government — under the leadership of President Barack Obama, the Bay Area congressional delegation and the state — has allotted California $2.4 billion for high-speed rail, more than anywhere else in America.

Your recent editorial diminishing this accomplishment denies readers an accurate picture of the breadth and depth of support for high-speed rail in California. It piles inaccuracy upon inaccuracy through its seemingly uninformed characterization of high-speed rail as obsolete and underutilized, contrary to so many examples from Asia and Europe.

High-speed rail is a proven technology, electrically powered, fully separated from automobile and pedestrian traffic. California’s construction of a high-speed rail system will alleviate the need to build thousands of additional miles of freeways and dozens of new airport gates and runways, which numerous studies have found to be more costly or even unachievable.

Add to these undeniable benefits the job projections resulting from this historic infrastructure project. The high-speed rail system will generate 600,000 construction-related jobs during the project’s life, estimated at more than eight years, with 215,000 of them in the San Francisco to San Jose and San Jose to Merced corridors.

These are good jobs with good wages, many in the near term, in these difficult economic times. Beyond these, the Bay Area Council determined in 2008 that 48,000 new permanent jobs would result from the project in the Bay Area by 2030. And by laying the groundwork for near-term and ongoing economic growth, and facilitating movement of people and goods, we can renew critical manufacturing and supply industries and bring even more economic benefits.

Washington, D.C., heard California and San Francisco loud and clear. We want high-speed rail and its enormous public benefits. The president and Congress listened when we stated the clear fact that high-speed rail fosters energy independence and reduces pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. They understood when we demonstrated that high-speed rail would improve the quality of life for local communities — not destroy it — by promoting affordable, convenient and sustainable housing, energy and transportation options.

The rails we are laying lead not just to the brightest, but to the most realistic future for California.

Jim Lazarus is the senior vice president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. Michael Theriault is the secretary-treasurer of the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council.

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