Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined counterparts from several big California cities Sunday to argue that California needs a high speed rail system now more than when voters approved it in 2008.
In an opinion piece printed in several San Joaquin Valley newspapers, the mayors addressed recent arguments from a chorus of opponents who are peppering the California High Speed Rail project with objections.
"California will need high speed rail in the coming years to do something about the gridlock on our roads and at our airports," they wrote. "In the last 2-1/2 years, the case for high speed rail has grown stronger, not weaker."
The $43 billion project, approved by voters in 2008, is planned to link the Bay Area, state capital, the Inland Empire and San Diego with L.A. by 2022. But detractors say the price tag is certain to rise, and the deadline certain to be missed.
Villaraigosa and the other mayors argue that "second guessing" should not derail a project that was deemed important by state voters at a time when oil sold for half the price it sells for today.
The mayors said the $3.6 billion already committed by the federal government, and $9 billion in state bonds, will be more than matched by private investors who are lining up for what will be a profitable venture.
"Twenty-two different funds have shown investment interest in financing part of the state's capital costs," they wrote.
The high speed rail plan has been the target of many legislators, who are in the midst of approving bills that would strip the state's High Speed Rail Authority of its power.
The rail agency has infuriated Antelope Valley officials by studying a route that may save money by running trains over the Grapevine instead of through Lancaster to save travel time and construction expense. Some San Francisco peninsula residents are also very unhappy with plans to upgrade low- speed commuter tracks for 200-mile per hour trains.
The mayors today argued it is logical to start building in the Central Valley, where current plans are to lay the first tracks. Opponents have derided those plans as "trains to nowhere," but the mayors note that the interstate highway system also was started in rural areas.
"On the day that first segment of interstate was dedicated, we did not know where all the money would come to build a 40,000-mile network throughout the nation," they wrote. "It was because of the vision of those who were willing to initiate the effort that, today, America has the most extensive highway system in the world."
In addition to Villaraigosa, the letter was signed by mayors Edwin Lee of San Francisco, Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, Chuck Reed of San Jose and Ashley Swearengin of Fresno.
In Southern California, the high-speed tracks will extend from San Diego north to the Inland Empire, and then west to Los Angeles Union Station.
From there, the tracks will extend northwest -- either over the Grapevine or via the Antelope Valley -- to the San Joaquin Valley and then fork to Sacramento and the Bay Area.