Diana Gomez: More freeways not the answer for Valley transportation needs

03/21/2014 5:00 PM

03/21/2014 10:36 PM

It is a fact that California is growing. In the last 18 months or so alone, we welcomed over 350,000 new residents to the state. These new residents, along with all the people who live here, will have transportation needs that far exceed the capacity of our infrastructure.

While Dave Bultena (“Scrap high-speed rail; build dedicated truck routes” March 8, Page B1) and I agree that we need to do something about our current and future transportation situation, I disagree with his suggestion that high-speed rail is not the answer.

In 2008, Californians were asked what their vision for transportation in California was. Proposition 1A presented voters with a decision: Should they stay the course by building more freeways and airports, or should they invest in new, transformative technology?

A majority of these voters recognized that it is misguided to think that the state can continue to build more freeways and not have to deal with maintenance and congestion problems that will result only a few years after these roads are completed.

Instead, Californians chose to fix the long-term problems with a long-term solution, not temporary and costly Band-Aids – that’s why they chose high-speed rail.

It’s important to get the facts straight. We can’t build enough new highway lanes or airport runways to handle population growth in the coming years. Even if we could, the cost would be two to three times that of high-speed rail.

Moreover, high-speed rail will not be for the privileged few. Tickets will be competitively priced; the trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco will cost less than plane fare. And the system will be profitable on an operating basis.

High-speed rail is an investment in the prosperity of California and the future of our Valley. It will create thousands of jobs in a region where the unemployment rate is double the national average, and it will link the region with major population and job centers around the state.

In my lifetime, the population of the fastest-growing region in the state, the San Joaquin Valley, is expected to almost double. As a lifelong Valley resident and the Central Valley regional director for high-speed rail, I am committed to serving our region and the people who call this place home.

Agriculture is undoubtedly the main economic engine; transportation infrastructure expansion will create a more diverse economy going forward.

The entire Merced to Fresno section will take less than 1,500 acres out of agricultural production. To put things in perspective, the Arboleda Drive and Plainsburg Road freeway projects are converting 835 acres, most of which was farmland. The Merced Regional Airport sits on over 750 acres. And commercial and retail development projects have taken much more in recent years.

The high-speed rail project will not only preserve farmland we would have lost to development, it will thwart the need for more land to be converted for highways and airports which have already taken significant chunks of space.

Let’s work together to move California and the Valley forward with transportation options that will secure our future instead of dwelling on outdated strategies.

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