Rebuilding America’s infrastructure is an economic challenge and an economic
necessity. According to the most recent data, the estimated annual cost of
congestion delay to travelers in the San Francisco-Oakland region is $2.6
billion. For those travelers trying to use the region’s roads and public
transit during peak travel time, this works out to an annual average cost of
$1,144 per person. The Bay Area is this nation’s innovation hub, and delaying
its workforce in traffic and on overcrowded public transit costs the nation
through lost productivity and increased pollution.
Congresswoman Speier has supported public transit, seismic retrofits of bridges, schools and hospitals, and travel capacity improvements throughout her years in the State Legislature and in Congress. For example, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provided $5 million to Caltrans to install ramp metering at entrances to Highway 280. Ramp metering is a way to improve the efficiency of highways so that they can carry more cars, but without adding lanes. MUNI received $108 million under ARRA to upgrade light rail vehicles, provide preventive maintenance, rehabilitate buses, and for a number of other system improvements to meet the ongoing needs of San Francisco’s population. San Francisco International Airport received more than $30 million for runway upgrades and improvements. Samtrans and Caltrain have also received millions of dollars to enhance reliability and improve service. This funding both improved our infrastructure and preserved or increased essential good-paying jobs in our region.
But the rationale for better transportation and infrastructure is not limited to ease of use or to economic productivity. We need to control greenhouse gas emissions or risk paying a price in terms so dear as to be incalculable.
According to a Bay Area Air Quality Board 2007 study of sources of greenhouse gases in the San Francisco Bay Area, carbon dioxide is 91% of all greenhouse gas emissions produced in a year. Transportation (passenger and commercial) represents the largest source of those emissions – 41%. Clearly, improved transportation is an essential component to successfully addressing the challenges of climate change in the years ahead.
In 2008, California’s voters approved the construction of a high speed rail system linking the San Francisco Bay Area with the Central Valley and our heavily urbanized south. Ultimately, the system may also link the state capital with both the Bay Area and the south.
Congresswoman Speier supported the awarding of $2.25 billion in federal high speed rail funding to California, and she joined with her colleagues throughout the Bay Area in insisting that our region receive its fair share of that money through the High Speed Rail Authority. The service is needed to avoid a massive strain on our state’s major airports and roadways over the next several decades, and to relieve commute-hour traffic as population growth continues apace with economic growth.
Serious questions have been raised about the business plan and ridership estimates used by the High Speed Rail Authority (authority). The authority must also renew its commitment to involve local communities in its planning. Ultimately, the fate of this system will depend upon whether private capital is willing to underwrite a portion of its construction costs in return for a chance to operate the system, and upon whether court rulings find the environmental and other required work are adequate. California needs high speed rail but it also needs better leadership at the authority to ensure that this critical project is completed in a reasonable amount of time and at a reasonable cost given its 100 year + contribution to the state’s quality of life.