High-Speed Rail: Oh, What the Heck

Oh, what the heck.

That seems to be the reaction that Gov. Jerry Brown, and his appointee to chair the board of the high-speed rail authority, are trying to provoke with their last-ditch effort to get high-speed rail started again.

That chair, Dan Richard, offered a video update (below) on the project this week. His point was that the new plan is cheaper -- and that it gives Californians more immediate benefits, by investing in current regional and local rail systems around the state.

Richard doesn't say it, but his argument amounts to this: Yes, we don't know how we're going to pay for $68 billion project (at least not yet). Yes, we can't really know if anyone is going to ride this. But there is already money on the table, and we're going to use it to improve things -- existing rail service -- that people already use and need.

That's probably the best argument that could be made for high-speed rail. But it also reveals how little of a constituency there is for high-speed rail that connects San Francisco and Los Angeles. The real constituencies are regional.

The lesson here should be that if high-speed rail is going to work, it should be redesigned regionally, to connect California's real regions -- LA to San Diego, or Sacramento to San Francisco -- and not the north and south, which are really separate states anyway.

Lead Prop Zero blogger Joe Mathews is California editor at Zocalo Public Square, a fellow at Arizona State University’s Center for Social Cohesion, and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (University of California, 2010).

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