No…high-speed rail isn’t a miracle solution to the I-15 gridlock – The Nevada Independent

The age of the high-speed rail might finally be upon us…but don’t expect its arrival to drastically improve the traffic jam we’ve come to expect on Interstate 15 near the state line.

Brightline West announced that it would begin construction on a high-speed rail line between Las Vegas and Southern California starting next year, with an aggressive plan to make it both economically and environmentally attractive to residents of both states. The project is estimated at $8 billion and includes several hundred million dollars of investment from Nevada and California — but recent federal dollars pledged for nationwide high-speed rail likely give backers some project the confidence to start innovating.

Its planned route would largely follow the Interstate 15 (I-15) freeway and could begin carrying passengers as early as 2026 if all goes according to plan. (What are the chances?)

Brightline, along with the political and business forces that support such a railroad, have long maintained that the project would reduce carbon emissions and significantly reduce congestion on I-15 by diverting travelers from their automobiles to a transportation option in common.

Oh, if only such a utopian future were so easy to secure.

It is tempting to buy into such thinking, especially since America has long been seduced by the idea of ​​high-speed rail projects. And while a Vegas to Los Angeles itinerary certainly seems more likely to materialize than California Railroad still to be completed between Los Angeles and San Franciscoit’s still unlikely to be the panacea that many of its most ardent proponents would have everyone believe for I-15 travelers.

For starters, it’s not entirely clear that car passengers will be in a rush to hop on public transport – even if it promises a respite from traffic congestion. After all, air travel is already an accessible and affordable (and much faster) alternative to automobile travel – and yet legions of travellers, commuters and tourists nonetheless continue to hit the roads knowing full well that they will be probably stuck in a never-ending parade of stop lights.

If existing alternatives to bumper-to-bumper traffic have yet to reduce congestion on American highways, why should the railroads be expected to do much better?

Indeed, estimates of how much — or even if – traffic jams could be alleviated by railway projects are always a point of contention somewhere else. As other forms of public transportpolicy makers and project developers often focus too much on the possibility of decongestion, even if there is little data to support such claims.

In other words, just because something could relieving traffic congestion doesn’t mean it will do it automatically. And according to commuter data from other countries, even high-performing rail networks have failed to reduce passenger reliance on air or car travel.

According to a study by The Caton Institute, for example, the bulk of travelers in countries with robust high-speed networks – such as Germany, France and Japan – have not migrated in large numbers to rail travel from automobiles or airlines aerial. Additionally, in some areas, it appears that most high-speed train passengers were already regular users of conventional trains, rather than converted users of other transit options.

Given that America has few pre-existing passenger rail networks, the question remains open as to how successful new high-speed operators will be in luring customers away from existing travel options – especially when data from elsewhere are decidedly mixed.

Or, to put it another way: Californians visiting Las Vegas seem unlikely to flock to a public transit option given that the LA-Vegas traffic jam is already often avoidable for those who make a small effort to alter their days of travel or book a flight on an airline instead.

The fact that so many Californians are deciding to endure congested roads instead of navigating an airport, for example, doesn’t bode well for a railroad’s prediction that drivers will suddenly migrate to their new transportation option. in common, more respectful of the environment. This skepticism seems particularly justified, given that any The rail alternative to the I-15 traffic jam will still take a little longer than current air travel options, despite the horrific experience of LAX security lines.

In other words, a new transportation option isn’t likely to deter huge swaths of travelers who currently prefer to drive from continuing to clog the freeway between Las Vegas and Southern California.

That, of course, doesn’t mean there won’t be benefits to installing such a transit option. To the extent that the government avoids micromanaging the project or massively subsidizing its construction – thereby preventing it from turning into a repeat of California’s bullet train to nowhere — it could still be economically advantageous for the region. After all, adding another way to get to Las Vegas has the potential to encourage even more tourists to visit “America’s Playground” every weekend… even if that is unlikely to draw much of its ridership from people who are already making a conscious decision to brave heavy traffic.

So while the era of high-speed rail may finally be coming to our corner of the American West, that still doesn’t mean travelers will actually be able to hit top speed on I-15 southbound after a week. busy holiday weekend.

Michael Schaus is a communications and branding expert based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and founder of Schaus Creative LLC — an agency dedicated to helping organizations, businesses and activists tell their stories and motivate change. He has over a decade of experience in public affairs commentary, having worked as a news director, columnist, political comedian, and most recently as communications director for a public policy think tank. Follow him at or on Twitter at @schausmichael.

Jose P. Rogers