I want to take a few Republicans on a road trip.
A few days after the GOP-led Congress cut off funding for high-speed rail in California, I drove to Los Angeles for Thanksgiving. I wish the critics of the project were with me in the car, with two kids fighting in the back seat, constant traffic delays, and about as unpleasant an automobile excursion as you can imagine.
I hate driving. When I was 16, in the New York suburbs, all I wanted to do was drive; now I can’t stand it. But when you’re invited to a friend’s house 380 miles away and flying is too expensive and the one rail line that lumbers along the north-south corridor takes 14 hours and is always three or four hours late, there’s not much of an option.
And even by my standards, I-5 is a miserable experience. It’s crowded, it stinks like the piss of 5,000 doomed cows, and it goes on forever. On and on and on, through fields where big agricultural corporations using heavily subsidized water grow cotton in the desert, up the grapevine, down the grapevine, fighting trucks and too many cars, no place to stop and stretch your legs … I-5 isn’t a working road like 101, where people commute to work and go shopping and get on and off after a few miles. Most of the way from Sacramento to L.A., there’s nowhere to go — 40 miles or more between exits. Everybody on the road — all 10,000 or 20,000 or 50,000 or however many gasoline-powered steel boxes were crammed onto the concrete ribbon Thanksgiving week — were in it for the long haul. People drive I-5 to get from one end of the state to the other; that’s why the thing exists.
And that’s why it’s about the best place in the country to run a high-speed rail line.
Seriously: I bet 90 percent of the people on that wretched roadway Thanksgiving week would have been thrilled to take a train directly from downtown San Francisco (or Sacramento) to Union Station in L.A. — particularly if the ride took half the time of the drive and cost about the same.
I can talk forever about fossil fuels and climate change and air pollution and all the reasons people should get out of their cars. But all you have to do to convince any reasonable person that driving from S.F. to L.A. is a bad idea is to do it.