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February 27, 2014
Another View: Opponents' arguments against high-speed rail are bogus

High_Speed_Rail_Station.JPG(Feb. 27 - By Dan Richard, Special to The Bee)

When opponents of California's high-speed rail program don't have answers on their side, they often resort to fiction over facts, as Rep. Jeff Denham and state Sen. Andy Vidak demonstrated in their highly critical op-ed ("New vote needed on high-speed rail project" Viewpoints, Feb. 26).

This goes beyond respectful disagreement. The opponents' claims are increasingly outlandish. Indeed, virtually none of their "facts" are facts at all, but false assertions and phony suppositions.

An egregious example is the claim that the High-Speed Rail Authority faced a make-or-break $180 million payment to the federal government on April 1 - a doomsday scenario created out of wholecloth by Denham for apparent dramatic effect.

The hyperventilating polemics don't stop there. No, Gov. Jerry Brown did not state that the federal government would come up with $20 billion in 2015. No, the project will not cost hundreds of billions. And, no, riders will not have to change trains four times to get from San Francisco to Los Angeles, as Republican House members claimed recently in a bacchanalia of bogus bromides.

Here are some facts: High-speed rail will create thousands of jobs, contribute to cleaner air, reduce sprawl and save energy. It provides the only realistic and affordable option for meeting the demands of a growing population, with transportation infrastructure already at capacity. We would need to spend up to three times more to build enough new highway lanes and airport runways.

What's more, their own audit found our ridership and cost numbers were reasonable; we have strong interest from the private sector; and what we are building will be entirely consistent with the service the voters expected.

While Denham and Vidak have been trying to score political points, we've been working successfully with key agricultural interests in their San Joaquin Valley districts, reaching agreements to protect farmland.

Let's not forget that when Denham served in the Legislature, he voted to place the high-speed rail bonds before the voters. At that point, there was not a whisper of private-sector dollars, federal dollars or any business plan. Exactly what then was he promising voters?

At Brown's insistence, the new leadership at the High-Speed Rail Authority has brought rigor and credibility to the business plan. We're working with regional transit systems, investing in electrification and important safety innovations. And we are hiring veterans, training workers and bringing many other benefits to an often-overlooked Central Valley region.

I offer this response to Denham and Vidak: No area will benefit more from high-speed rail than the region you represent. We should work together to realize the benefits of this project for your communities.

In the meantime, if you have to make things up to make your point, you don't have much of a point to make.

Dan Richard is chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.