Playing With Politics

A Blog on Law, Politics, Planning, Development, and Other Vices

$45 billion or $100 billion. Which is cheaper?

Posted by Roobs on August 26, 2011

The cost to NOT build the California High-Speed Rail project has never been zero.

Critics of California’s High-Speed Rail project usually have their eyes fixed on one part of the project – the bottom line.  The most common line of attack against the project is its cost, estimated around $45 – $60 billion (depending on who you ask).  They call it a “boondogle” because they say it is just far to expensive for the state to undertake.  As a post in the California High-Speed Rail Blog points out, critics’ arguments rest on one assumption: That we are to spend $45-$60 billion on HSR or we don’t build it and spend $0.   This, of course, is not true.

From CAHSR Blog:

This claim has always been utterly false. The cost of doing nothing is not zero. Californians are going to have to get around their state somehow, and as population grows and gas prices rise, the cost does too. The cost of expanding freeways and airports to meet the travel demand HSR will meet is estimated at $100 billion. Compared to that, HSR is a bargain.

Anyone who goes shopping can tell you that if you can buy the same thing for a cheaper price, then you do it.  Californians will need to travel around our state whether we build HSR or not.  To suggest that we can do so for nothing is not only false but utterly irresponsible on the part of officials and critics.  Over the next 25 years, California’s population will increase from 38 million residents today to 50 million by 2035, a lot of that growth will happen in the Central Valley.  The fact of the matter is that we are going to build something, either more freeway and airport capacity or HSR in order to meet the transportation demand that will come. High-speed rail is and always has been the cheaper alternative to expanding freeways and airports.

From CA HSR Authority, numbers derived from submitted 2004 EIR:

Statewide, over the next two decades, California’s HST System would alleviate the need to spend more than $100 billion1 to build 3,000 miles of new freeway, 5 airport runways, and 90 departure gates to meet the transportation needs of a growing population. In fact, the San Joaquin Valley is projected to grow at a rate higher than any other region in California. Three counties—Merced, Madera, and Fresno—are projected to grow by 68% by 2035.

So when critics are saying we can’t afford to spend up to $60 billion on HSR, what they are really saying is we can obviously afford to spend $100 billion on more freeways, airport terminals and runways and other costly and less efficient modes of transportation.  In other words, critics would rather Californians pay more than pay less.  Does that make any sense?  No. No it doesn’t.  High-speed rail is a cheaper, more efficient and environmentally friendly means to meet the transportation demands of Californians now and in the future.

Check out the rest of the post at California High-Speed Rail Blog.

Roobs is a masters student at UCLA in the Department of Urban & Regional Planning with concentrations in Transportation Planning & Policy and Urban Design & Development. He has a BA in Legal Studies and Sociology from UC Berkeley. Roobs is a former Waterfront Commissioner for the City of Berkeley and former paralegal for a law firm specializing in real estate development. 

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3 Responses to “$45 billion or $100 billion. Which is cheaper?”

  1. Jim Horn said

    Even a masters student should know the real cost of rail is not the capital but rather the operating costs. Fares rarely pay more than 20% of the operating costs leaving the taxpayers with a huge subsidy that has to be paid with additional taxes collected every year.

    Freeways carry not only commuters but also trucks delivering raw materials or finished products, service people going to a destination with their tools, people making trips that do not lend themselves to rail travel, and busses. Transit accommodates less than 3% of the total trips made. Transit’s market share has been steadily shrinking for the last 40 years despite all the governments attempts to force people to abandon their cars and take the bus or train. The economy is in the general purpose lanes of a freeway, not in commuter rail. If you are interested in the economy and jobs then build the roads. There is a direct correlation between personal vehicle miles travelled and personal domestic gross national product.

  2. […] $45 billion or $100 billion. Which is cheaper? […]

  3. How does a resident living midway between HSR stations 100 miles apart avoid paying for a mode of transit they cannot benefit from?

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