Instead of spending an additional $100 billion or more to drill rail tunnels through seismically active mountains and disrupt communities, the state should embark on a massive public works effort to meet its water needs. Advances in stormwater capture and recycling hold great promise. Los Angeles could meet 70% of its water needs locally by 2035 if enough investment is made in recycling and cleaning up its groundwater basins. Repairing and replacing leaky pipes, conservation, desalination and replumbing the state project are other pieces of a resilient, drought-resistant water system for California.
When voters approved a $10 billion bond issue in 2008 to help build the full rail line, the cost was estimated at $33 billion with completion by 2020. If the project started fresh today with a $113 billion price tag, would voters still support it?
Even the much-touted climate benefits of the bullet train are losing luster. California now mandates that every vehicle sold in the state must be electric by 2035. So if the bullet train is running by then, it would be replacing car trips that don’t produce greenhouse gas emissions. It might get some people out of planes, but the carbon impact will likely be less than envisioned as more fuel-efficient jets – possibly using biofuels – come online.
Meanwhile, construction itself will have produced plenty of pollution on its own.