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High Speed Rail Already Killing Jobs in California

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Last week the State of California finally acknowledged what its drenched residents had already known for some time: the drought is over. With snowpack at 165% of normal, California's cities, businesses, and farms will all get every last drop of water they need this year.

But what about earlier years? Unemployment in California was already at 12.7% (in February), almost 3 full points higher than the national average. And it is even higher in California's rich agricultural Central Valley region. In Fresno, the largest city in the valley, unemployment is at 18.2%. In Merced, its 21.2%. A big reason for these high unemployment rates is the cuts in planting California's farmers had to implement due to a lack of adequate water storage. It is very simple: more water equals more jobs.

Not only could new water storage provide more water storage for farms and cities, but the new dams could also increase the state's electrical power generation capacity. But the environmental movement has halted all new major dam production. Water storage production actually outpaced populaiton growth for most of the state's history until the end of the 1970s. It has since flatlined. It has been 32 years since a major new dam (the New Menolones Dam) was completed.

So where have Californians chosen to invest their infrastructure dollars instead of new water storage? In 2008, California voters approved a $9.95 billion bond to build a high speed rail system between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The price tag has already gone up from an initial $33 billion to $43 billion. And that does not include $7 billion in spurs for service to Sacramento or San Diego.

As Adam Summers noted in yesterday's San Diego Union Tribune, average ticket prices are estimated to be $105.  But even that estimate is based on the assumption that 117 million passengers will use the system every year. To put that hope in perspective, Amtrak's Acela Express serve only 3 million passengers a year on the Washington, DC to Boston, MA corridor.

Earlier this month Japan offered to pay to up half of California's high speed rail construction costs. Why would Japan do this? Because once the track is built, it will cost millions to maintain every year. Millions of dollars that will eternally be sucking away from other infrastructure priorities.