California Should Look to Next Generation Transportation Systems

by Scott Wilk

[This opinion editorial was originally published in the Santa Clarita Valley Signal - click here to read it on the SCV Gazette & Free Classifieds' website.]

Historically, large public projects do not fare well in California. Unlike their private project counterparts, government run projects have a track record of running over budget, not meeting deadlines, and are consistently inundated with mismanagement.

For example, the $6.4 billion San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge project has had a long history of being riddled with problems.

Unforeseen concrete foundation problems, bolt failure, defective steel rods, and water leaks have cost millions of taxpayer dollars and caused serious frustrations among commuters, especially for a bridge that was supposed to be completed in 2007, not six years later, in 2013.

Yet again, we are watching this trend of massive California public projects stumble as the same problems continue to plague the California High-Speed Rail project. Passed by voters by a slim margin in 2008, Proposition 1A commissioned a High-Speed Rail system to be built, which promised to improve transportation congestion and connect California's major population centers.

The original promises made in Proposition 1A state that the High-Speed rail was to cost $45 billion, carry 120,000 riders per day at up to 200 mph, take passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2 hours and 40 minutes, and be completed by 2030.

The reality is that the High-Speed Rail is a road of broken promises and failures. New construction projections put the cost at almost double, $68 billion, and that's just for Phase I!

In the eight years since it was passed, not a single piece of track has been laid and a completion date remains a question mark. Phase I is not to be completed until 2029.

Having been misled in almost every aspect, Californians don't feel the same as they did in 2008 regarding the High Speed Rail project: a 2015 poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California found that 47 percent of respondents favor the project, while 48 percent say they oppose it. Luckily, a private alternative is on the horizon.

Master inventor and tech trailblazer Elon Musk scoffed at the idea of using old technology to build a statewide rail system and instead proposed a hyperloop system: travel pods moving in vacuumed tubes at supersonic speeds.

Where the High-Speed Rail will travel up to 200 mph in some areas of track, a hyperloop system will allow travel at 600 mph on average, and has a top speed of 760 mph. The Reason Foundation recently found the original High-Speed Rail trip estimates from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than 3 hours is simply not feasible. The Foundation goes on to state a more realistic time is 4 hours and 40 minutes, which would likely cause a nearly 50 percent reduction in the ridership forecast. Meanwhile a hyperloop pod would take a mere 35 minutes to complete the same journey.

And best of all, since a hyperloop system would be largely private, Musk estimates that it would take $6 to $7.5 billion to complete two one-way tubes – as opposed to the $68 billion estimate for the High-Speed Rail.

Before dismissing Elon Musk's hyperloop as science fiction, it's worth noting that he has created PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla – all of which were pioneering companies that disrupted and changed the nature of their respective industries.

In fact, one company vying to make the hyperloop a reality, Hyperloop Technologies, just successfully completed an open air propulsion test in Nevada on May 12, 2016. Hyperloop systems are a part of the next generation of transportation technology, and California should seek out and capitalize on these innovators who are already willing to research and develop it.

These cutting edge ideas are coming from privately run organizations with incentives to maximize profitability and keep their business efficient With the High-Speed Rail project not penciling out, California should instead look to invest in transportation projects like the hyperloop – next generation technology.