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The Opportunity Costs of California’s Bullet Train

Monday March 27th, 2017   •   Posted by Craig Eyermann at 6:03am PDT   •  

According to the latest estimates, it will cost Californians upwards of $64 billion to build the bullet train envisioned by Governor Jerry Brown and the state’s legislature. That’s money that they don’t have today, but if they did, that’s also a lot of money that could be put to work to do more things that most Californians might rather have than a bullet train, albeit one that might run at speeds as high as 220 miles per hour between San Jose and Bakersfield, sometime more than a decade from now.

The California Policy Center’s Ed Ring describes what Californians are being compelled into giving up for Governor Brown’s dream of a train that would compete with higher speed commercial air traffic.

California’s High-Speed Rail project fails to justify itself according to any set of rational criteria. Its ridership projections are absurdly inflated, its environmental benefits are overstated if not actually net detriments, and its cost, its staggering cost, $64 billion by the latest estimate, overwhelms anyone with even a remote sense of financial proportions. To make this final point clear, here is an assortment of California infrastructure projects that could be paid for with a $64 billion budget.

If these projects were built, instead of the bullet train, Californians would have abundant, cheap electricity, abundant fresh water, and upgraded roads and freeways capable of handling all the traffic a surging economy could possibly dish out.

Here’s the list:

(1) Build 10 natural gas power plants generating 6.2 gigawatts of electrical output for $5.7 billion.

(2) Build plants to desalinate 1.0 million acre feet of seawater per year, supplying 1/3 of ALL California’s residential (indoor and outdoor) water requirements for $15 billion.

(3) Build plants to reclaim and reuse 2.0 million acre feet of sewage per year, supplying 2/3 of ALL California’s residential (indoor and outdoor) water requirements for $10 billion.

(4) Build the Sites Reservoir for $4.4 billion.

(5) Build the Temperance Flats Reservoir for $3.3 billion.

(6) Widen and resurface every major interstate (and then some) in the entire state. ($15.4 billion).

(7) Fix the Potholes. ($10.2 billion).

Together, these seven major projects would positively affect the lives of millions of Californians more than who might ever ride the state’s frequently delayed bullet train project.

For a drought-stricken state with so much of its public infrastructure in horrible condition and an electrical power grid subject to so many rolling blackouts, can Californians really afford the bullet train its politicians are choosing to prioritize over these other kinds of public projects that would provide greater benefits to more of the state’s residents?

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March 2017