Facing the reality of new infrastructure: LA Times story on CalHSR routing

Yesterday’s LA Times ran a story entitled California bullet train: The high price of speed. The tag line for the Facebook entry was “What HSR Would Destroy in California.”

From the story:


Almost every city and county along the proposed route loses something, but none more than Bakersfield. More than 228 homes and more than a half dozen churches would be taken, many of them in low-income minority communities on the city’s east side. The rail authority’s plans have both homeowners and government agencies confused.

Ok, now we need to quote somebody saying something along the lines “can’t make omelets without breaking a few eggs” right? We’d be right back to Interstate Era planning.

I’m not sure why this story is a surprise to anybody, as this is a huge, new project. There simply isn’t existing right of way for large stretches. And while you can criticize the HSR authority, the story of how Bakerfield boosters originally welcomed the plan only now to have misgivings as it gets more and more real should give us all pause. Are they just a bunch of hypocritical NIMBY folks? I don’t think so. The California High Speed Rail Authority has been pretty strategic in marketing the project early for ballot measures. Their mantra has been: ” The system will be great, don’t worry about the details, or the lines on the map, what’s important is that it’s coming to you.”

Then, with implementation, the lines on the map and promise of a new service accompany the very real sacrifices that come with building such a large project. It’s not what you envisioned. It’s your friends and neighbors being forcibly moved. The abstract jobs jobs jobs! idea constantly pushed comes along with the likely destruction of existing businesses.

It’s a hard, obviously redistributive act of government–and it always is, every time something like this gets built. We try to cloak everything in “win-win” language, but there are few real win-wins in projects like this. The building of the Interstate System was exactly the same.

My students in planning theory had to discuss this idea of how do you create knowledge about the future? It is, as Yoda says, always in motion. Your decisions shape it. What should have been done differently here, if anything?