Could High Speed Rail Kick Start San Joaquin Valley’s Economy?
The funding of California’s high speed rail project suffered another hit last week thanks to congressional budget cutting, but contractors across the state still hold out hope that they can benefit from the dream to connect San Diego, San Francisco, and Sacramento by bullet trains. Should the plan actually succeed, San Joaquin Valley cities like Fresno and Bakersfield would benefit, too. Or would they? Advocates of rail talk about the jobs that will result. Others tout modernization and the ability to travel from California’s largest hubs without enduring the hassles of air security. But opinions range all over the map whether large scale rail projects really do have a macroeconomic benefit. Nevertheless, a conference last week in Fresno (pictured) was full of enthusiastic would-be contractors, and the construction could help give a lift to a region that suffers from some of the highest unemployment rates in the U.S. Economists talk about the multiplier effect that infrastructure projects have on local communities. Contractors need information technology people, catering, supplies, and administrators. And in the long run, a safe, convenient, and effective rail system can be a boon to cities like Fresno and Bakersfield--but not for a long time, and the possibility of the final costs ranging anywhere from US$60 to $80 billion is worrisome. Judging by the attendance at the conference at Fresno State’s Save Mart Center last Thursday, some businesses are bullish. They should be: Fresno and Bakersfield would be huge beneficiaries of this rail system, as would passengers. The cities are too close to Los Angeles and San Francisco to offer cost-effective air travel to those hubs. And businesses who find the Bay Area or the Southland too expensive to conduct business could find the San Joaquin Valley an attractive prospect if fast transportation elsewhere in the state were possible. In any event, the time to build such a rail network is now--as with any huge construction project, the effects will not be reaped for years. But that does not mean we should not tackle them--an increasing population and maxed-out airports are just a couple of the reasons why California must pursue and complete the high speed rail project--with full transparency and please, without any wasteful spending that will launch strawman arguments.