U.S. Rail Renaissance

California's $10 billion high speed rail bond was not the only transit initiative to pass on Election Day. Over 70% (double the customary rate) of all transportation initiatives passed, including 18 that raise sales or property taxes.
November 14, 2008, 9am PST | Irvin Dawid
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"Some 23 initiatives were approved nationwide last week that will inject $75 billion into transportation systems, according to the Center for Transportation Excellence, a nonpartisan research group that promotes mass-transit service. Among the winners: Nearly $10 billion in bonds to start building a high-speed rail network in California, and $18 billion to expand mass-transit service in the Seattle area.

Overall, more than 70% of the major transportation-funding measures on ballots this year were approved, about double the rate at which initiatives are usually passed, the CFTE said. This rate of success came as a surprise to many transportation advocates, who were expecting a less enthusiastic response to tax increases and public debt at a time of economic and fiscal turmoil. Of the measures approved, the CFTE noted, 14 will increase sales taxes, four siphon funds from property taxes and three authorize bonds.

The election results are good news for companies that are big players in the mass-transit business, such as Siemens AG, Bombardier Inc. and Alstom SA, and for hundreds of small suppliers to bus and railcar makers."

However, passage of a ballot measure does not assure all projects will get built.

"The clear risk is...can California go out and raise $10 billion to do this at a cost that makes sense?" said Art Hatfield, an analyst at Morgan Keegan in Memphis, Tenn. "Is the appetite there to invest in these projects from private money?"

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Published on Wednesday, November 12, 2008 in The Wall Street Journal
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