By Ruth Gadebusch
With so much concentration on the nation’s debt lately it is easy to simply accept the status quo. It is easy to cancel all projects that extend into the future and Heaven forbid that we should think of beginning anything new.
Most directly affecting us in this great valley is high speed rail. There is always opposition to projects of this sort, but the current economic situation brings the “naysayers” out of the woodwork. If we wait until every last detail is in place and every last penny assured, nothing would ever get done. Big matters take long-range planning and seldom, if ever, is the financing completely assured.
Of course, we must deal with reality but has anything big ever happened without some controversy? Has any ever come off without cost overruns? Doesn’t delay always increase the cost?
Yes, the reality is that some people will be inconvenienced—actually, more than inconvenienced; however, this nation has long had eminent domain based on the good of the whole. I am honest enough to admit that I am glad not to be one whose property is affected. Nevertheless, I believe the good will far outweigh the bad in this project.
We have long complained that our valley is neglected by both the nation and the rest of the state. Now is our opportunity yet some of us become our own worst enemy in throwing up every kind of roadblock imaginable. It is tantalizingly close. Yet it is in great danger of being snatched from us just when we should be looking for ways to make it work, not going negative. Haven’t we heard some of these same arguments against all other public facilities?
We can ill afford to fall victim to this current dire economic situation. That only exacerbates the problem. Vision, foresight, commitment are called for. The area suffers from inordinately high airfares. Our Highway 99 is well beyond optimum capacity, not to mention its condition much of the way. One does not keep digging the hole deeper when in trouble. To fail to bring this project to fruition is to fail the future.
High speed rail has worked in much of the world. How are we so different? Yes, we have been wedded to the automobile, but there are problems in continued dependence on oil. One looks to the future for alternatives.
No matter the jokes about “the train to nowhere,” there are numerous reasons for the choices that have been made. To name a few: The valley needs the economic stimulus. The flat land is optimal for test runs that are needed for a new system. Difficult as it is to acquire the land it is less so than in more heavily populated areas. And that doesn’t count the improvements in the air quality that would result in more public transportation and less use of the gasoline engine.
Even riding today’s Amtrak on the less-than-smooth tracks can be far more relaxing than the stress of driving. More options are needed to make it ever more feasible to use public transportation.
Granted, there are pressing human needs now. There are serious considerations in this and any other project of such magnitude, but we dare not shortchange the future by stopping dead in our tracks (no pun intended). The challenge is to find ways to deal with all the needs of society both now and in the future. We might even have to revise our tax structure and rein in our Defense Department (formerly known as the War Department!), but that is a story for another day.
Ruth Gadebusch, a community activist, is a veteran, a former member of the Fresno Unified Board of Education and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, and an emeritus member of the Board of Directors of the Center for Civic Education.