No place in California stands to reap the rewards of high- speed rail more than the San Joaquin Valley.
That is why the opposition of House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, and Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, is so puzzling. At a one-sided House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing last Thursday -- where the California High-Speed Rail Authority was not invited to testify -- the two made it clear they want to kill future federal funding for high-speed rail in California.
This is despite the state and federal government already committing more than $6 billion in state and federal money to complete the first phase of the project -- the 130-mile high-speed "backbone" in the valley from Merced to Bakersfield.
The state Legislature in July approved a bill to issue the first bonds from voter-approved Proposition 1A, including $2.6 billion for the 130-mile stretch in the valley and $1.9 billion to improve intercity and regional rail across the state, including the Capitol Corridor.
Congress already awarded $2.952 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and $945 million from the Fiscal Year 2010 Appropriation bill to the California high-speed rail project. The state and the U.S. Department of Transportation already have signed legally binding contracts. There is no precedent for rescinding already obligated funds.
Five firms have been short-listed to prepare bids for the 65-mile Merced to Fresno stretch, with dirt flying by July. The Fresno to Bakersfield section also is moving.
McCarthy and Denham should be lining up to support this first phase for their communities. Far-thinking people and organizations, from Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin to CSU Bakersfield, realize the value of high-speed rail. As the site of the state's only major north- south highways (Interstate 5 and Route 99), the valley is home to some of the worst air quality in the nation. It also has high poverty and is rapidly losing farmland to sprawling urban development.
High-speed rail can improve quality of life in a number of ways:
Relieving traffic congestion on roads and at airports.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions -- including net zero emissions during construction.
Providing better connections with the economies on the coast.
Focused development around rail stations and existing communities, rather than sprawling into farmland.
The fact is, CHSRA's business plan calls for no new federal money before 2015.
The next phase would connect Bakersfield with Palmdale, providing a passenger rail connection between central California and Los Angeles. That link would be key to triggering enough ridership to operate the system profitably, thus allowing the state to auction off the route to a private operator.
McCarthy and Denham should be working to accelerate that, not blocking it.
You'd think that McCarthy and Denham would be stopping Republicans in the nation's capital from treating the San Joaquin Valley as "nowheresville" -- though its eight counties are home to 4 million people, a population larger than half of the states in the nation.
If McCarthy and Denham don't want federal dollars to be a primary source of funds for building post-2017 phases, they ought to promote other sources -- instead of denigrating a project that will help their region and put California at the forefront of the national transportation network of the future.