Bullet Train Is California's Latest Dream ; It Could Cost $37 Billion to Connect San Diego, L.A., and San Francisco, but the Alternatives May Be Even More Expensive

Article excerpt

Someday a 700-mile bullet train may shoot north-south through California, and already the idea means that fresh debate is shooting through this state on quality-of-life issues ranging from smog to congestion, from sprawl to the Golden State virtue of mobility.

Of course, the estimated price tag of $37 billion for a high- speed rail from San Diego, to L.A., to San Francisco - with possible connections through the Central Valley to Sacramento - is raising eyebrows during the current budget crunch.

But that isn't stopping anyone here from at least pondering the bliss of a rapid ride through oak-adorned hills while enveloped in a cushy seat.

In fact, the first $10 billion of the cost, for a first leg of the project, is currently planned for a November vote.

Costly, but perhaps not costliest

Some say that vote could be derailed. But a new draft report by the state commission that has been studying the project for years, says the cost may be half of other alternatives for transporting a projected 68 million riders by 2020.

To move the same people by car and/or plane would require $82 billion of upgrades, including 2,970 additional miles of freeway lanes, 60 new airport gates and five new runways, the report says..

"Up to 98 million more intercity [region to region] trips and 11 million more [residents] will mean a greater demand on the state's infrastructure," says the study by the California High Speed Rail Authority. That growth will result in "more traffic congestion, reduced safety, more air pollution, longer travel times, less reliability, and less predictability in intercity travel."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has proposed putting off the vote, looking over his shoulder at his own proposed $15 billion bond measure to solve the state's financial crunch. But other transportation experts and agencies are welcoming formal dialogue because it could inform substantive debate about other projects planned up and down the state.

Long-term land use questions

"The notion of a high-speed rail in California, if taken seriously, has to be connected with land use and development patterns which could be a long-term determinant in how and where California grows," says Martin Wachs, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and a professor of regional planning. …