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Tim Burke: High-speed rail project may be just some California dreamin’

Thursday we celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday. Thanksgiving Day is an annual national holiday in the United States celebrating the harvest and other blessings of the past year. Our Thanksgiving is modeled on a 1621 harvest feast shared by the English colonists (pilgrims) of Plymouth and Native Americans.

Our holiday is particularly rich in legend and symbolism, and the traditional fare of the Thanksgiving meal typically includes turkey, bread stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, and pumpkin pie. With respect to vehicular travel, the holiday is often the busiest of the year, as family members gather with one another. Last weekend I drove from Pahrump over to the central coast of California and back. The trip reminded me to give thanks that I didn’t have to drive the California roadways on a daily basis.

I know, I know – it is almost a cliché to bash all things California, especially if you live in rural Nevada. I am not a California hater. Actually, there are lots of things I like about California. I like Yosemite, Lake Tahoe, Disneyland, Napa wines, sports, beaches, the scenery, and great weather, just to name a few. But when you drive the roads in California you realize that the state has really gotten its priorities off track.

The state’s infrastructure is deteriorating and yet the politicians seem to be more interested in taking up far-left issues than solving problems that affect the majority of the state’s residents. The road system seems to be a particularly glaring problem. Roads that are under construction never seem to get completed. The roads not under construction are inadequate and a patchwork of repairs.

Driving Interstate 15 between Primm and Victorville is a perfect example of that state ignoring a major issue with its highways. I was driving west toward Victorville Friday evening and saw a constant stream of vehicles heading east toward Las Vegas.

Fortunately, I was going the opposite direction and traffic was not moving slowly. In fact, the 70-mph posted speed limit is apparently only a suggestion since many of the drivers heading west were doing their best to imitate driving on the Autobahn. Commercial vehicles occupied the right lane so the drivers driving well over the speed limit played a game of darting in and out of the two lanes to pass vehicles.

The exact opposite occurred Sunday evening for drivers heading back to Los Angeles as a steady stream of headlights made their way from Las Vegas. Vehicles were packed tightly together bumper to bumper and moving so slowly that it was going to take the occupants hours longer than it should to get home.

The local government leaders in Las Vegas and Los Angeles have been complaining about this stretch of highway for years and are asking for the highway to be widened. California’s politicians answer to road issues has been to throw money at high-speed rail projects. The state wants to force drivers out of their vehicles and into public transportation because in California, autos with internal combustion engines are viewed as evil devices destroying the world.

Electrical vehicles are popular, and purchases of these vehicles are subsidized with incentives by the state. If you own an electric vehicle in California, just hope that another example of the state’s failure to maintain its infrastructure doesn’t cause your electric vehicle to be without power from another PG&E electrical blackout.

So how is California doing with its high-speed rail projects? In 2008, California authorized almost 10 billion dollars in bonds to build a high-speed train from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The project was estimated to cost $33 billion to complete. Fast-forward to 2019 and the cost of the project has ballooned to almost 98 billion dollars by some estimates and very little construction has taken place. Now the plan is to build only a portion of the system from Bakersfield to Merced.

Check back in another 10 years to see if it actually gets built, I am predicting no. Apparently intoxicated with their success with that project, California’s state politicians think the answer to congestion on I-15 is to approve a $2 billion bond (that doesn’t include what Nevada will have to chip in) for another high-speed rail project that is estimated to cost $4.8 billion. This one will take riders from Victorville to Las Vegas.

So, let’s think about this for a minute. You are going to drive from Los Angeles to Victorville, (approx. 90 miles), park your car so you can take a train another 190 miles, unload your luggage, wait for the train, and then in Las Vegas take public transportation, a taxi, or Uber? And by the way, it is supposed to pay for itself with no future subsidies. If it works as planned that would be a great benefit to relieve some of the congestion on I-15 but it requires drivers to change habits and for the system to be actually built. Neither will be easy.

Imagine for a moment what 98 billion (that the high-speed rail Los Angeles to San Francisco was going to end up costing) could do for that state’s existing highway system? Or the 12 billion in bonds that were approved?

That is what Nevada residents dislike about California. Not the people, not the state’s many great features, but the political decisions of its elected officials in Sacramento. The last Nevada state Legislature gave a strong indication that California’s far-left politics have extended beyond its state lines to Nevada. For rural residents, this is particularly worrisome. I am just thankful that gas is not $4.85 a gallon here yet like it was in Bakersfield last weekend!

Tim Burke is a businessman, philanthropist, educator and Nye County resident.

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