California’s population is estimated to reach between 50 to 70 million by 2050. The surge on mobility demand can be solved by investing in conventional transport modes. However, this approach can have major environmental impacts if we consider their ecological footprint as we expand highways and airports plus the network of parking lots supporting them.
High speed rail (HSR) has been heralded by some as a green solution to the intercity mobility needs of California by connecting cities faster and bringing communities closer. The expectation is that reducing demand for vehicles and airplane trips can facilitate the state meeting its climate change policy goals. But with construction set to begin next year, the question remains: Will HSR become a transformational infrastructure project fostering economic prosperity, global competitiveness and more livable and sustainable communities? Or if never built will it be a lost opportunity for localities along its path to reap economic gains, reshape urban centers into more compact ones, and change the way we travel and connect to different modes of transportation?
There is great skepticism about large public projects particularly in the current difficult fiscal environment. However, Californian voters already granted their support to this visionary venture. By passing Prop 1A in November 2008, voters authorized $10 billion in state bond funding and acceptance of the proposed route. Federal funding has also been granted for its development with strong support from the Obama administration. However, much more investment will be required. It remains to be seen whether supplemental funds will come from public private partnerships or foreign investment, or how we can manage risk in such a long term project? As the largest infrastructure investment in transportation in the state in more than five decades, HSR implementation should be well managed, cost-effective and should maximize potential economic and environmental benefits. However, we must maximize economic benefits while decoupling economic growth from growth in transportation energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.
This conference aims to inform the next stage in policy design and implementation to develop a HSR system for California from a multidisciplinary perspective. It will do so by exploring HSR’s environmental impact vis-à-vis other transportation modes, local, regional and statewide economic opportunities, private involvement in financing, and lessons from international experiences with HSR. Come gather with top national and international researchers, business leaders, policy practitioners and experts to discuss the economic, environmental and urban development considerations that can maximize the benefits of HSR to California and help spur a prosperous green economy.
Center for Environmental Public Policy (CEPP)