California's Sputnik Moment: Support for High-Speed Rail

Rosanne Foust is the President and CEO of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association (SAMCEDA.)

There’s been a recent revival of the idiom “a Sputnik moment” thanks to President Barak Obama’s usage in his State of the Union speech last week.

The broad definition of this moment is a point in time where people realize that they are threatened or challenged and have to redouble their efforts to catch up. It comes from the time when the Soviet Union launched the first satellite, the Sputnik 1, and beat the United States of America into space.

Here in the Bay Area, we’re having our own Sputnik moment on the California high-speed rail project. Since the Authority Board voted in December to begin construction of the system connecting Los Angeles to the Bay Area in the Central Valley, we’ve seen the departure of the lead engineer for the Peninsula Rail Program, the release date of the draft environmental impact report delayed, and stood on the sidelines watching commitments of state and federal funds head to Los Angeles and the Central Valley.  In short, we’re getting beat.

If the Bay Area is to maintain its economic standing in a globally competitive world, we must regroup.  To build a statewide system of high-speed rail connecting major metropolitan cities in California will require our region to redouble its efforts to earn the continued support of local, state and federal decision-makers and elected officials and the public at large.

The San Francisco to San Jose corridor encompassing the Peninsula has its roots in railroad history. Yesterday’s locomotive has evolved into an unmatched opportunity to bring America its first high-speed rail system to the region.  We know that Northern California will grow by 6 million people between now and 2035 and how we grow will determine our quality of life and economic prosperity. 

High-speed rail and the much needed electrification of Caltrain will improve the region by providing needed good jobs at good wages. In fact, it is estimated that the high-speed train system will generate 600,000 construction related jobs over the life of the project. The benefits of high-speed rail on our environment and air quality, decreasing traffic and congestion, energy independence and economic recovery and prosperity are significant.

The rapid pace of change and innovation locally, regionally, nationally, and globally demands that the San Mateo County Economic Development Association (SAMCEDA) and other business affiliations along with organized labor and environmental groups meet this challenge head on providing the resources and ideas, as well as solutions to move this project forward on the Peninsula.

The Authority needs to finish and release the draft environmental impact report on the San Francisco to San Jose corridor but first taking the extra time to examine more closely trenching and other alternatives important to communities along the route, including the planning, design and construction of improvements to Caltrain on the corridor that will accommodate and serve both the near-term and long-term needs of the Authority and Caltrain for inter-city high speed rail service.

We can work more diligently towards the principles of sustainable growth and preservation of community character as we forge a path for California’s future. The Authority needs to continue to engage the public to craft a vision for our corridor.  

The Bay Area is the heart of innovation for our country and the world. We can work together to set standards to foster livable, distinctive communities and cities with a strong sense of place while integrating high-speed rail into our landscape. Most of the civilized world has achieved this or is working towards this economic and environmentally viable transportation alternative.

Let’s not be left behind in the Bay Area as California advances and builds high-speed rail, America rises to the President’s goal of giving 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years, and the world completes projects in China, South Korea, Europe and the Middle East.

It’s time to redouble our efforts and meet the challenges facing the high-speed rail project. If we don’t we stand a chance of watching the train pass us by.

Capt Tom burton January 30, 2011 at 10:42 PM
Your state is near bankrupt. People are fleeing,(except the illegal criminal aliens), unemployment is high, and you think building a fast train will help you out! Not with my tax money. If the good people of California want and need a high-speed train, by golly raise the money and build it. But don't waste MY tax money on it! Your economy would improve significantly if you would turn the water back on to the Valley, eliminate princess pelosi, boxer and other scum and start using some simple math and common sense.
Nicholas Kibre January 31, 2011 at 04:18 AM
Tom; not sure why you're posting comments on a local news site from out of state--are you searching the internet for things to disagree with? Anyway, here's some numbers: California contributes may more $$ to the federal government then we get back. Here's some figures: http://www.taxfoundation.org/press/show/22659.html I think it's us Californians who have a right to complain about wasting our tax dollars on whatever they're blowing it on on in Mississippi and all those other "moocher states". If the federal government pays for part of our high speed rail project (California *is* raising most of the money), we're just getting some of our own back.
Kathy Hamilton January 31, 2011 at 07:23 AM
I wouldn't call rushing to build a system using 40 year old rail technology a way to catch up. Because High Speed Rail is used in other countries does not mean it will be successful for us especially if it's rushed and poorly planned. The author says it will give 80% of people access but the question will be, who will be able to afford it. In addition doesn't the author want the system build lawfully- based on solid economics and properly conducted ridership studies or is it High Speed Rail at any cost?
Dan February 03, 2011 at 12:54 AM
High speed rail would be a disaster for California. It's an incredibly expensive white elephant that will suck money away from schools and other infrastructure, and for what? Is it that important to go to Los Angeles? By the time it's done, your kids will be too old for Disneyland anyways. Caltrains is losing tons of money. Amtrack is losing over a $1.5 billion a year. Muni, Bart, everywhere, these things are subsidy hogs. The smartest thing the Bay Area could do is avoid high speed rail, and instead put the money into better schools. http://high-speed-rail.blogspot.com/
Nicholas Kibre February 03, 2011 at 05:54 AM
People again high speed rail keep making this "put the money into schools" argument. Nobody could be against money for schools, right? So if you don't like something, say that we have to spend the money on schools instead. Somehow I don't think any of these people were out fighting for school funding before HSR came onto the picture. Anyway: all forms of transportation our subsidized. The general rule of thumb is that for all the money you spend on car payments, gas, insurance, tuneups, etc, the government is spending about the same amount on roads, highway patrol, etc. The gas tax and reg fees don't come close to covering that. Some of us really do want or need to go to LA, and the 5 sucks, and airports suck. Saying "everyone should just stay home" is kind of a solution to transportation problems, but a pretty lame one.


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