One Planet: The future of high-speed rail in California
Rose Aguilar & Malihe Razazan
KALW 91.7 FM San Francisco
February 24, 2019
Photo courtesy Jack Snell
On February 12, 2019, in his State of the State speech, California governor Gavin Newsom revealed the fate of the state’s ongoing high-speed rail project. Initially planned to stretch the state from the city of Los Angeles to San Francisco, Gavin called off the $77 billion plan saying the transit project would “cost too much and, respectfully, take too long.” Newsom suggested a secondary deal to revise the track’s path to central California, specifically Bakersfield to Merced.
In light of the declaration, Elizabeth Deakin, professor emerita of City and Regional Planning and expert on transportation policy planning and analysis, joined KALW, 91.7 FM San Francisco for an interview and discussion with other professionals regarding the bullet train’s future. The trifecta of guests included Deakin; Kurtis Alexander, a general assignment reporter for The San Francisco Chronicle; and Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a professor of urban planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.
Alexander has covered the high-speed rail project for its duration dating all the way back to the $10 billion, voter-approved bond in 2008. Alexander put the destiny of the high-speed rail ultimately at the hands of financing and “whether or not the funding becomes available.” Alexander also viewed Newsom’s revised proposal as the governor “throwing a bone to those against the project.”
Loukaitou-Sideris sees the shortening of the route in the long-term as inefficient, explaining that such transit is only viable if it connects major hubs such as L.A. and San Francisco rather than Merced and Bakersfield. Such action would in turn spur the economic development of nearby cities says Loukaitou-Sideris.
Deakin explained more of Newsom’s financial hesitation with the project. Average construction costs can be expensive on their own, but the project’s duration raises its total price because of the naturally incurring inflation of construction expenses, Deakin said. The bullet train only increases its bill with added costs of utilities relocation, the manufacturing of railroad and railroad cars, and right-away acquisition, which requires government to issue a monetary refund for any seized land utilized for transit.
Amidst discussing the high-speed rail’s future, Deakin urged for improvements to local public transportation systems. Deakin pushed for an “upgrade of existing links,” meaning the locations of stations must be increased or strategically placed to curb the time of trips to transit stations to make mass transportation viable, accessible, and less foreign.
“We need integrated transportation systems not piecemeal investments,” Deakin said.
Listen to the full podcast here for more of Deakin and her perspective on the high-speed rail’s destiny, now estimated to finish in 2029.