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.