Just in time for a crucial vote in the California State Legislature on releasing the voter-approved high-sped rail bonds, two independent reports have come out in support of the California High-Speed Rail Authority's revised business plan.
The Bay Area Council Economic Institute's white paper "The Economic Impact of CalTrain Modernization" joins TransForm's "Moving Ahead with High Speed Rail" in highlighting the potential economic, environmental, and quality-of-life benefits of the Authority's reworked plan for funding and implementing a high-speed rail system in the nation's most populous state.
TransForm's Stuart Cohen told RPA that the revised business plan presents a workable model for the implementation of a high-speed rail system in California. The TransForm report carefully assesses the risks involved with the new plan and weighs those against the benefits each portion of the project might bring, in addition to making several recommendations to the Authority for an even more well-balanced project. Those recommendations include identifying alternative funding sources -- the revised business plan calls for relying on anticipated revenues from the state's Carbon Cap and Trade program; creating an advisory committee of environmental and environmental justice organizations and stakeholders to address the concerns of those communities; and strengthening focus on integrated land use and transportation planning in cities and towns with the planned high-speed stations.
The Bay Area Council's report focuses on the revised business plan's "blended" approach, which would combine the high-speed rail alignment with existing commuter rail systems in the project's urban bookends of Greater Los Angeles and the Bay Area, and the opportunities that strategy presents for improving commuter rail service on the San Francisco Peninsula in the near-term. Plans to electrify the region's diesel locomotive CalTrain commuter rail network have been stalled for decades, but the Authority's revised plan includes the initial allocation of $1.1 billion to improvements in the urban bookends early in the project, which presents the Bay Area with an opportunity to make electrification a reality. The Council's study identified a potential economic benefit of up to $2.5 billion for the region over time from construction-related jobs and investment, improved real estate values near stations and the right-of-way, and employee time savings. The additional benefits of the fewer polluting diesel locomotives and shorter travel times are in addition to this economic boon.
The release of these reports comes at a critical time for the commencement of the high-speed rail system's initial phases. Right now, the California State Legislature is deliberating the appropriation of the first $2.7 billion in voter-approved bonds for the construction of the first phase of the project. TransForm, the Bay Area Council, and other organizations supporting a full high-speed rail system in California have been working in Sacramento to gather the affirmative votes the appropriation needs, and these reports demonstrate the potential that investment has to provide returns for the state and the people of California.
While supporters are confident that the appropriation will be passed, time is running out - the legislature's deadline to decide on the release of the bond money is June 30th, or risk losing the Federal Government's matching grant. Urge your California lawmaker to support passenger rail improvements and a big step toward realizing a full high-speed rail system.