If a new generation of transportation advocates and federal officials has their way, California will soon have miles of brand-new rail lines, strategically sited to enliven cities, increase real estate values, and whisk passengers several whole blocks at speeds ofï¿½ nearly 20 miles per hour.
High-speed rail, it's not. But $40 billion, it's not either.
A couple of weeks ago, Shelley Poticha, the Obama Administration's point person on smart growth, gave a high-profile talk to a big Urban Land Institute crowd in Los Angeles. Her message, plain and simple, was that it's time for what she called "alignment."
To supporters, the wisdom of Senate Bill 375, the 2008 law that promotes emissions reductions through coordination of transportation and land use, lies in its holistic approach to planning and its kitting together of disparate elements of the urban fabric. But, in light of budget crises at all level of government, one piece that is essential to SB 375's success is rapidly coming off the rails: money to run buses and trains
With state and local government revenues shrinking throughout California, planners are increasingly looking to the federal government – and especially transportation funds – to pay for local planning efforts, especially if they involve infill and transit-oriented development efforts. But the two major possible sources of funding – the transportation reauthorization bill and the climate bill – are both stalled with little hope of passage anytime soon.
The climate bill has been caught, at least for the moment, in the crossfire of the immigration debate. So let's get back to that later and focus instead on the bill that ought to have no trouble passing: the transportation reauthorization bill.
A $400 million economic stimulus grant from the federal government for the proposed Transbay Terminal in San Francisco will provide the final piece of financing for construction of the first, $1.2 billion phase of the terminal project. However, federal transportation officials appear to have stepped into the middle of a dispute between local officials and the California High Speed Rail Authority over the precise terminus for high-speed rail in San Francisco by siding with the locals. In addition, one rail authority board member, former judge and state Sen.
Local road and street maintenance needs an additional $71 billion investment over the next 10 years, according to a study prepared by the California State Association of Counties and the League of California Cities. The study identified $99.7 billion worth of maintenance needed to roads, streets and their essential components, such as storm drains, sidewalks and signals. However, only $28.3 billion is expected to be available.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority business plan released at year's end is inconsistent, unrealistic and potentially illegal, according to a Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) report to the Assembly Transportation Committee.
Although freeways have helped shape the development of California, very few new freeways have been built since the 1980s. The focus has instead been on widening existing freeways, and adding carpool and transit lanes. But in Riverside County, where construction and development are major economic drivers, county officials are trying to add a new east-west freeway.
These days, the California High-Speed Rail Authority might as well be called the Political Traction Company. After winning voter approval of a $9.9 billion bond in November, the authority seemed to become a favorite of the Obama administration, which is eager to fund high-speed rail construction. In addition, some Central Valley communities ï¿½ such as Fresno and Bakersfield, where stations are set to be built ï¿½ are eager to see the project advance. Nevertheless, cities along the Peninsula of San Mateo and Santa Clara counties are asking questions about the project.