California’s ambitious high-speed rail project got a major boost last week. The state’s High Speed Rail Authority Board approved plans for a 90-mile extension of the rail. This extension would connect the Central Valley’s Merced to San Jose.
The board approved the extension’s plans and environmental review unanimously. This is the first time a rail extension has been approved for a coastal connection. The ultimate goal of the rail project is to connect California’s northern coastal hubs to its southern ones with nearly 900 miles of rail lines.
The announcement stoked hopes that the state may accomplish one of the project’s major goals: connecting the lower-income Central Valley to higher-paying jobs on the coast. California has a large wealth disparity between its very wealthy coastal cities and the Central Valley, the country’s bread basket. The high-speed rail connection aims to significantly cut travel times between cities in the interior and on the coast. For example, the proposed Fresno to San Jose connection would cut a three-hour car trip down to an hour on the train. This could help reduce the massive wealth disparity between these regions.
High-speed rail still faces uphill battle
Despite the Thursday win, don’t expect the high-speed rail project to come to completion anytime soon. The project received initial approval via Proposition 1A in 2008. Prop 1A allotted nearly $10 billion to the rail system. Since then, the project has been beset by funding issues and delays. Construction began in the Central Valley seven years ago, but officials expect that the rail won’t open until 2029.
A recent letter signed by a large coalition of pro-rail groups urged the state to approve the $4.2 billion in funding allocated by Governor Newsom’s 2022–2023 budget proposal. The letter emphasized the broad public support for the project as well as its potential boons for sustainability. The signees include three former US Department of Transportation Secretaries, including Norman Mineta, who passed away this week.
Hopefully, the project will stay on track and receive the funding it needs. The high-speed rail program would make much more of California accessible to all while cutting down significantly on traffic and travel times. This would leave the freeways more open to those who need to use them, like semi-trucks hauling important goods. If the rail line accomplishes its goals, California will become a better place for all.