Could High-Speed Rail Ease California’s Housing Crisis? See Japan. - City Lab

The future of California’s ambitious but troubled high-speed rail project is murkier than ever.

Always controversial, the California High-Speed Rail (CHSR) project, which promises to whisk passengers from Los Angeles to the Bay Area in about 2 hours and 40 minutes at speeds that hit 220 mph, has experienced cost overruns and delays since it was conceived a decade ago. When approved by California voters in 2008, the project was projected to cost $40 billion. Since then, however, the price tag has swelled to $77 billion, with some estimates going up to $100 billion. Construction is now in progress in the state’s less-populated Central Valley, and the first phase of the line, between San Jose and Bakersfield, could open by 2025, with San-Francisco-to-L.A. service beginning in 2029. Phase 2 of the project would extend service to Sacramento and Stockton in the north and San Diego to the south.

As costs mount, public opinion on the project has been closely watched. One 2018 USC/L.A. Times poll found that just 31 percent of California’s registered voters supported the project after they were told it would cost twice the initial estimates; another 2018 survey, however, from the Public Policy Institute of California, found a slim majority of state residents still on board. The project’s full funding remains uncertain, as well. Perhaps most alarming to those who share the high-speed rail dream, California’s new governor, Gavin Newsom, appears to be less enthused about CHSR than predecessor Jerry Brown was. In the run-up to his recent inauguration, Newsom signaled a willingness to reassess the project.

CHSR has been touted as a job creator and smog fighter, as well as a way to help lower the state’s carbon footprint by taking cars off the road and airplanes from the skies. Bullet-train boosters are hoping that another, less-examined impact of the project is due for attention: the possibility that the rail network could eventually help ease the housing affordability crisis in the cities at either end of the line.

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