In these tumultuous economic times, California voters will soon have a chance to drop a cool $9.95 billion on a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
A greener alternative to the air shuttles and cars that make the trip from northern to southern California daily, the proposed "bullet train" would supposedly make the trip from SF to LA in 2.5 hours (vs. 1.5 hours by air, and around 6 hours by car). Proposition 1A may also be a Rorschach test for Californians' feelings about public transportation in general: If you believe in mass transit, then why not go all in by investing in a technology that would be a first in the United States (though it's old hat in Europe) but if you think the car is king, then 1A sounds like a spectacular boondoggle.
California's projected budget shortfall, which worsens with every drop in home values, and the plummeting price of gasoline will doubtlessly effect voters' opinions on the project. But factors like the projected exponential jump in the state's population in decades to come, and the trend toward urban in-fill as an antidote to the crushing commutes engendered by suburban sprawl will also play a part. Indeed, Prop 1A may be a referendum on the future of the state itself. And don't discount California's well-earned rep as the state that does everything first: if super-high-speed rail in the U.S. is going to happen, it'll start here.