California voters have overwhelmingly approved plans for a high-speed rail link to Hawaii.
According to election officials, Proposition 49 — which would use public money to build a 2,600-mile-long undersea rail tunnel between Honolulu and Los Angeles — passed with a resounding 78 percent of the vote.
The tunnel would be 185 times longer than the longest undersea tunnel in the world, the Seikan Tunnel in Japan. The total cost of the project is estimated at $587 billion and barring any court challenges construction is expected to begin in 2018.
“This is a great day for California,” says Walter Miller, leader of the Yes on 49 campaign. “Sure it’s relatively easy and cheap to fly to Hawaii. But why would you want to take a 5-hour flight, when you can take a 15-hour train ride in an underground tube?
“Here in California we’re disrupting the future of transportation with this tunnel. It’s going to be an enormous boost to our economy.”
California has a long history of high-speed rail boondoggles. Voters approved a $10 billion high speed rail link from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2008, only to see its costs skyrocket sixfold in the years since. However, the astronomical cost of the Hawaii project seems not to trouble its supporters.
“Yeah, I guess that kind of seems like a lot of money,” says Chaz Whitman, a part-time juggler from Berkeley. “But those fat cat CEOs on Wall Street make more than $500 billion in a single day right? Let’s just raise taxes on them a little bit.
“Like there’s like so much money out there that we’re not using. It’s just like sitting there in rich people’s bank accounts. Why can’t we use that for like trains and parks and snacks and stuff. You know?”
Other “yes” voters were more motivated by the project’s political and environmental benefits. Rebecca Watson, a sociology major at the University of California San Diego, sees the new railway as a symbol of collectivism over capitalism.
“Airplanes are part of the corporate-industrial complex,” she explains. “They’re built by multinational corporations like Boeing and Halliburton. Trains aren’t built by corporations. They’re built by the people, for the people.
“Plus, think about all the carbon emissions that we’re going to prevent. I mean flying on a plane is kind of like supporting Hitler you know. It’s like really really bad for the environment.”
The Hawaiian government has not yet announced a position on the rail tunnel. However, an adviser close to incoming Governor David Ige says his boss is leaning against the proposal.
“This is the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard. If California wants to build a tunnel, then go ahead. But we won’t be spending Hawaiian taxpayer money on this.”