BY BRIAN P. KELLY - Along 119-miles in the Central Valley, more than 1,700 men and women are working to create the nation’s first high-speed rail system. Despite the challenges that come with any major infrastructure project, work is progressing, structures are being built and plans are moving forward to ultimately connect Los Angeles to San Francisco – as the voters approved.
On March 9, the California High-Speed Rail Authority released its Draft 2018 Business Plan to move the project forward in the face of well documented challenges.
Those challenges require us to conduct business differently than we have in the past – and we are. We have learned some hard but valuable lessons from our construction experience thus far in the Central Valley. We are incorporating those lessons into our future construction practices to ensure that we better identify and mitigate risk, establish appropriate project budgets and contingency funds, and effectively manage costs.
As we look at doing business differently, it is clear we need to deliver this project in stages. Funding to construct high-speed rail in California is constrained and uncertain, and it always has been. Even when the voters approved Proposition 1A, it was clear that additional funds would be needed to deliver the entire 520-mile San Francisco/Merced to Los Angeles/Anaheim system.
THIS APPROACH HAS BEEN USED TO DELIVER OTHER VITAL TRANSIT SYSTEMS, SUCH AS THE BAY AREA RAPID TRANSIT (BART) SYSTEM. IN 1973, BART SERVED 4.6 MILLION PASSENGER TRIPS; IN 2018, IT WILL SERVE 126 MILLION.
However, with the federal funds we have received, our available bond funds, and finance-able state cap and trade dollars, we can build about half that system and provide important mobility connections and economic and environmental benefits sooner as we continue working to deliver the entire project.
The 2018 Draft Business Plan proposes an investment strategy to:
▪ Meet our commitments to our federal partners by completing the 119-mile Central Valley Segment and the environmental review for all project segments statewide by 2022.
▪ Develop 224 miles of high-speed rail ready infrastructure on two lines, one in the Central Valley (Bakersfield to Madera) and one in the Silicon Valley/Bay Area (between Gilroy and San Jose/San Francisco). This will reduce travel times on existing passenger rail systems, expand clean electrified rail service, and prepare for testing and potential high-speed rail operations in these two corridors by 2026.
▪ Complete project development work to refine the design, scope and cost for the Pacheco Pass tunnel that is the critical link between the Central and Silicon Valleys.
▪ Invest remaining Proposition 1A funds in high-priority projects along the Burbank to Anaheim corridor that improve freight, local and regional passenger rail service, enhance transit connections and improve safety.
▪ Leverage state funding committed to the project to pursue additional private and federal funding or financing to invest in the development of the high-speed rail system statewide.
This building-block strategy will provide early mobility and environmental benefits and build on the economic impact high-speed rail is already producing. Thousands of good-paying jobs have helped put people back to work in the Central Valley. Hundreds of businesses – large and small – are hard at work on the program across the state. And billions of dollars have been infused into the state’s economy, creating nearly $6 billion in economic output.
This approach has been used to deliver other vital transit systems, such as the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. When it commenced service in 1972, BART primarily served East Bay commuters heading into downtown San Francisco each weekday. Today, BART has expanded in virtually all directions, now serving the San Francisco and Oakland airports, expanding in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties, and moving south to serve San Jose where it will ultimately connect with other rail and transit providers (including high-speed rail) at the Diridon station. In 1973, BART served 4.6 million passenger trips; in 2018, it will serve 126 million.
This didn’t happen overnight, but after a set of building-block investments that made BART an essential part of the Bay Area’s economy and culture. This same approach is worthy of continued support for the delivery of the nation’s first truly high-speed rail system in California, the home of innovation and progress.