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California's bullet train: Boondoggle or boon?

November 3, 2011 |  3:35 pm

Californians seem to fall into two camps when it comes to the state's multibillion-dollar high-speed rail project, with those on one side (typically fiscal conservatives) seeing it as a massive waste of taxpayer money while those on the other (typically liberals) think it's a visionary, environmentally responsible solution to our state's transportation problems. Both sides have a point, particularly in light of the release this week of a new business plan from the California High Speed Rail Authority showing that the train will cost three times what voters were told when they were asked to approve bonds for the project in 2008, but that building it will produce thousands of jobs and create a transit system that will ultimately help wean Californians off fossil-fuel-burning automobiles and airplanes.

The Times editorial board tends to side with the liberals in this fight; we endorsed the 2008 bond measure to build the train, after all. But we're under no illusions that it will be easy or cheap. California officials are taking a big gamble with taxpayer money, especially when it comes to building the second segment. The first piece, connecting Fresno to Bakersfield, risks becoming a $6-billion train to nowhere unless the state can drum up about $27 billion more to connect the line to either San Jose or the San Fernando Valley. Where is that money going to come from? Planners are looking to Washington for most of it, but it will only materialize if the economy improves and Congress gets more willing to open the purse strings for infrastructure. There's no knowing whether that will happen.

What do you think? Should we come out in favor of this in Friday's pages, or opposed to this? Make your best argument, pro or con.

-- Dan Turner

Photo: Artist's rendering of a future San Jose station for the bullet train. Credit: California High Speed Rail Authority.

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