Opinion by Noel T. Braymer
When people in the San Joaquin Valley talk about the High Speed Rail Project there is very little talk about how quickly they will be able to get to Los Angeles or San Francisco or about the cost of the project. If you are a farm owner in the San Joaquin Valley the issue is about what impact construction of High Speed Rail will have on their property. For most everyone else the issue is how many jobs High Speed Rail will create. No wonder considering that the recorded unemployment in the San Joaquin Valley ranged from a ‘low” in Madera County of 15.3 percent to a high of 18.9 percent in Merced County compared with a Nation average unemployment of 9.7 percent as of July 2010. Jobs or lack there of is the most pressing issue for most people in this county, not that you would see it on TV news.The United States has a large backlog of construction projects in the trillions of dollars. We don’t need many new roads, but the roads we have are in poor shape, particularly the bridges on many of these existing roads.
Transportation is at the heart of an healthy economy. Any study of geography shows that major cities are always at major junctions of transportation. This includes harbors, rivers. rail and roads.California voters have shown their support for transportation spending with the passage in 2006 of Prop. 1B for almost 20 billion dollars for transportation construction with bonds; with just over half for highway construction and over 20 percent for rail project. Again in 2008 the public passed Prop 1A with almost 10 billion dollars of bonds for High Speed Rail and improved rail service state wide. Also in 2008 several counties in California passed by over 2/3 majorities increases to local sales taxes for improved transportation. In Los Angeles County the sale tax was increased to a full 1 percent to help pay for major construction projects, much of it for rail transit. Much of this support for transportation projects in California was both recognition of the terrible shape of our transportation infrastructure and the stimulus effect of construction on the economy by the voters.
Spending money for infrastructure is nothing new during bad economic times.When we think of the Hoover Dam many think of it as a great engineering achievement from the depths of the great depression of the 1930’s.The reason it is called the Hoover Dam is because the project was started during the Administration of Republican Herbert Hoover. Many of the public works projects built by the Roosevelt Administration had its roots during the Hoover Administration. Historically tax supported public works projects like transportation have been a non-partisan issue and should continue to be.