Since Californians approved Proposition 1A in 2008, there has been tremendous effort put into designing and planning the high-speed system. Now, it is poised to become a reality.
I Will Ride a group of students and young professionals dedicated to supporting the high-speed rail project couldn't be more excited about this great step forward and what it means for our future as the next generation of trailblazers in the Golden State.
One of the reasons we support high-speed rail as passionately as we do is because we know our generation wants new transportation options. Travel patterns have begun to show long-term changes. In fact, according to The Frontier Group, a world-renowned think tank, between 2001 and 2009 the average yearly number of miles driven by 16- to 34-year-olds has dropped by 23 percent.
Now, you may be harkening back to your college days and thinking this trend simply proves that starving students can't afford a car, the insurance or gas to get anywhere. And just starting out in the work force? Forget about it. You drove what you could afford to get you where you needed to go, and that was it.
But the authors of the study also found this trend toward reduced driving has occurred even among young people who are employed and financially stable. Young people are looking for alternative methods to get where they need to go. When planning for the future, does it make sense to look at the old transportation models and spend hundreds of millions of dollars doing more of the same? We don't think so.
Over the past 10 years, the Central Valley has been the fastest growing region in the state. We've seen our population increase by 17 percent compared to 10 percent statewide. The cities of Fresno and Bakersfield have populations of 500,000 and 350,000, and have become major financial, business and academic centers. Should we think about widening Highway 99 to 10 lanes to accommodate traffic? How long until that fills up? And how much will maintenance on those lanes cost year after year?
We think it's time for a new, more sustainable mode of long-range transportation.
The students and young professionals that constitute I Will Ride take pride in going to college and working in a place proud of its agricultural roots, small-town feel and optimistic atmosphere. However, we are ready to embrace high-speed rail and the countless economic and environmental benefits it will bring.
Often, people ask why the project is starting in the valley instead of the Bay Area or Los Angeles. They'll say, "Isn't that the middle of nowhere?"
We don't think a thriving region like the Central Valley, with its seven million residents, can or should be considered the middle of nowhere.
With the completion of high-speed rail, valley residents will be connected to the rest of the state like never before. In under an hour, we will be able to travel to San Francisco or Los Angeles without the hassle of airport security or high-priced gasoline.
And high-speed rail will make several stops in valley cities, so folks from the Bay Area and Los Angeles will be able to more easily and frequently travel to the valley. Not only will this help revitalize valley downtowns, but the economic development associated with high-speed rail stations will bring in new sources of revenue and add jobs.
The University of California at Merced, California State University, Fresno, and CSU, Bakersfield, have already begun exploring opportunities for high-speed rail focused educational programs. We could be on the cusp of becoming the nation's high-speed rail technology hub.
If you're not sold on the statistics that project the future travel habits of young adults, you should also consider an April report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The GAO found that the methods and models used in the California High-Speed Rail Authority's 2012 Business Plan are reasonable and, once fully operational, the high-speed rail system will be able to operate without a government subsidy.
It sounds like a win-win to us, and we have the facts to support it. High-speed rail is the future of the Central Valley, and of California, and it will benefit California's residents for years to come.
If they build it, I will ride it.
The author is incoming president of the California Young Democrats at UC Merced.