Yesterday, a number of states applied for a share of the $8 billion in stimulus spending on high speed rail.
They should all be rejected. Except for California, which should get all of it. And it should get the other $5 billion coming down the pike.
Getting the country to build a better system of trains is darn near impossible. If we let $8 billion scatter in staggered sums across the nation it’s going to be tough to track how useful the money really is, making any further investment in trains difficult to justify, and open to more debate.
One of the biggest problems with building a high speed rail system in the United States, is all the unknowns. That’s why we get highly questionable, back of the envelop guess work done by Harvard’s Ed Glaeser.
If we built the train system proposed for California, we would get real, measurable, results. If the train is a flop, at least we’ll know for sure. If it’s a raging success, then we can choose the next part of the country in which to build a better train system.
However, if we give a $76 million to North Carolina, and $28 million to Pennsylvania, what will we really learn?
The Washington Post, citing a GAO study, says construction costs vary from $22 million a mile to $132 million a mile for high speed rail. At the low end of that estimate, that means North Carolina could lay out around 3.5 miles of track with its stimulus money.
California is ready to go. It has a plan in place for high speed rail system. California voters approved a $9.95 billion bond sale to fund the rail line. Add in $13 billion from the federal government, and the project is more than half way funded.
Last Friday we argued that we’re just not the type of nation that can build big sweeping public work projects, and that’s why our stimulus has seemed so pitiful. Here’s a chance to prove us wrong.
We can get a big shiny play thing out of our stimulus. It’s the type of project–whether it’s successful, or a boondoggle–that we can say came about because of the Great Recession.
Of equal importance, we get to have a definitive test case about whether or not high tech trains can work here in the United States.
Spread the wealth around, and it’s just going to look like more of the same.