The much dreamt-of, argued-over, fretted-over, celebrated and maligned high-speed rail system from San Francisco to Los Angeles, which will not be completed until many of us are middle aged or entering retirement, is finally having an official groundbreaking January 6, and that's tomorrow. The event is happening in Fresno, where the first phase of rail construction will begin connecting two parts of the Central Valley that are 29 miles apart: Madera and Fresno. And as the LA Times reports, the decision to do the ceremonial groundbreaking in Fresno reflects that city's wide support for the project, which has faced a lot of resistance elsewhere in the Central Valley. (Cough. Bakersfield.)
And this groundbreaking comes after a two-year delay, many legal wranglings, and plenty of squabbles in Sacramento that have focused on the economic viability of the construction project. The High-Speed Rail Authority has been careful to lay out the economic details in this fact sheet, which promises that the railway will be self-sustaining from ticket sales alone even with the most modest ridership projections and their cause is being helped this week by the spate of recent bad press the airlines have been getting for their cramped seats, nickel-and-diming, and general passenger-unfriendliness. By 2029, when the SF-to-LA system is hopefully, maybe going to be complete, air travel may have all gone the way of Greyhound and Southwest and we'll be deeply grateful for this thing.
Another hurdle hampering the project has been the acquisition of private land through which the railway tracks must travel. As the LAT notes, "Even as construction gets underway, the state has only acquired 101 of the needed 526 parcels for the first 29 miles." And that's a pretty dismal record given how much land has to be negotiated over to complete this whole thing.
There's also the problem of the construction delay, which could put federal funds at risk. There's a mandate that some $4 billion in state and federal matching grants must be spent by October 1, 2017, something which some experts say is unlikely without work happening at an "exceptional" pace.
But, it's details like this that prompted Jerry Brown two years ago to declare that "The world is full of NIMBYs and fearful men," urging people to ignore all the negative polls and general pushback and pointing out that his father was governor when BART was originally approved, and "it barely passed." The moral: Big projects take time, and lawsuits, and more vision than most of these jerks have.
Lawsuits are still pending in Kern County and Bakersfield, where significant opposition has been raised. And let's not even get started on the SF Peninsula NIMBYs who've also been fighting this thing tooth and nail.
In the good news column, the one-way fare from SF to LA is projected to be $97, and the trip should take under three hours. A later phase of the project which no one can even think about just yet would add southern and northern legs connecting Sacramento to San Diego.
But perhaps in seven years (2022) you will be able to get from Bakersfield to this "ghost town" called Borden (just south of Madera) really, really fast.