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Davis' Threat to Fast Rail

February 03, 2003

In the name of reducing the state budget shortfall, Gov. Gray Davis wants to collapse the independent High Speed Rail Authority into Caltrans, the behemoth agency that mostly builds and maintains highways in California. There are no "sacred cows or pet projects that can be favored above others in this budget," a Davis official said.

The problem is that the rail authority is financed by transportation funds and not from the general fund. Any savings would do nothing to solve the budget problem. But there is a real chance that the effort to create a high-speed rail system in California would be lost or blurred in the giant bureaucracy of Caltrans.

The independence and visibility of the authority are important in the promotion of a proposed $10-billion rail bond issue on the November 2004 ballot. The bond issue was approved by the Legislature last year. Davis says he remains committed to the project, but his proposal seems to say otherwise. Davis should drop this bad idea or the Legislature should pass SB 91, proposed by Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter) to preserve an independent rail authority.

The success of commuter rail projects in the state indicates the public will support rail travel when it offers true advantages over driving or flying. The $10-billion bond issue would finance the first leg, from Los Angeles to San Jose. High-speed trains would make the trip in about 2 1/2 hours. Income from the first link would finance branches to Sacramento, the Inland Empire, Orange County and San Diego.

The added inconvenience of flying since Sept. 11, 2001, makes a super train even more attractive. But the project must be promoted and explained effectively for it to win voter approval.

High-speed rail has been a tremendous success in Europe for more than 20 years. It is not an experiment or science fiction. California needs a high-speed rail system. Only a vigorous, independent rail authority can make this happen.

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