By Representative Cardoza
When California voters approved Proposition 1A in 2008, the bond measure for California's High Speed Rail system, they would have hardly imagined the first segment of the state-of-the-art train would be built between the remote Valley communities of Borden and Corcoran -- with their combined populations totaling a mere 25,000.
Yet, that is exactly what the California High Speed Rail Authority is proposing to do this week, causing many to dub the project "The Train to Nowhere."
It makes absolute sense to start the project in the Central Valley, where the topography and limited obstacles will allow the trains to reach 220 mph.
However, it defies logic to have the train start and stop in remote areas that have no hope of attaining the ridership needed to justify the cost of the project.
The authority should comply with the Federal Railroad Administration's directions for the recent $715 million grant provided through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.
The state was directed to use the funds to build either a Merced-to-Fresno segment or a Fresno-to-Bakersfield segment, starting and stopping the trains in urban areas of the Central Valley.
The Authority's selection of a hybrid route between Borden and Corcoran violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the ARRA grant. For this reason I have asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray La Hood to enforce the directive to the state and to intercede in this decision.
I supported the Federal Railroad Authority's grant of funds for the Central Valley as a way to jump start the project, bring jobs to the region and connect the Central Valley to the other urban areas of the state.
However, building the train from Corcoran to Borden is not the right way to do it and will only lead to the loss of continued support from Californians across the state.
The construction will bring jobs to the region initially, but will do nothing to sustain long-term economic development because the trains will not be used.
In contrast, building the Merced-to-Fresno segment starts the process of connecting two urbanized regions of the Central Valley: the Fresno region and North Valley. It also provides the crucial links to the rest of the system: west to the Bay Area, north to Sacramento and south to Los Angeles.
The intent of Californians in passing Proposition 1A in 2008 was to build the system as fast as possible, maximizing ridership and the mobility of Californians in a manner that yields the most benefit.
Looking only at the ridership benefits, the Merced station can capture the North Valley populations, while the Fresno station captures both central and south central Valley residents.
By contrast, the Borden-to-Corcoran segment violates Proposition 1A because it cannot even be considered to be a "usable segment."
I have long been a proponent of high-speed rail, but not at the expense of government accountability.
In addition to my request for review of the grant use at the federal level, I strongly suggest the state Legislature request a formal program audit of the California High Speed Rail Authority.
The process by which this decision was derived needs to be fully investigated.