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High Speed Rail Concept, Source: latimes.com

In 2008, California voters approved Proposition 1A, clearing the way for a high speed rail system to connect Northern and Southern California. Roughly six years later that decision and the events that have followed can be used as a lens to see the relationship between the design of a plan and the practical implementation of said plan. As John M. Levy succinctly puts it, “a plan is a vision of the future” and it is the responsibility of the planner to anticipate problems that may occur in both the short and long term.

At the core of this issue, is my belief that the rail project was never truly needed. Yes, it would be convenient to be able to get from San Francisco to Los Angeles in roughly 2 ½ hours but the practicality of such a trip is difficult to envision. The time from one city to the other would be less than ideal for a commute and the implementation of additional stations (and subsequent stops) would decrease the overall effectiveness and speed of the train. With the state of California being several hundred billion (with a “b”) dollars in debt, it is difficult to find the logic in proceeding with an estimated $68 billion dollar project.

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Proposed Route, Source: environmentalgraffiti.com

In addition to the cost and practicality concerns of the high speed rail, a CNBC report found that individuals in the Central Valley were upset with what the infrastructure required for the rail will do to their land. This issue is particularly noteworthy in light of the recent readings regarding zoning and eminent domain. Based upon the precedent that the Supreme Court has established thus far with Kelo v. City of New London, it would appear that land for the rail project could be classified as “public use”. With that being said, it will be interesting to see if the government will attempt to purchase the land it requires to avoid any potential lawsuits that could further stall the project.

Tying back to the early sentiment that a plan is the vision for the future, it seems that the initial plan for a fast method of travel between Northern and Southern California would be both viable and desirable to the state. The goal of improving transportation in such a large and populous state is clearly something that displays forward thinking initiative, however, the plan may be too large and ambitious to ever recognize its full potential. Going forward, planners should consider revisiting the project and determining if the time, money, and effort are going to be worth the end product.

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