High-speed rail is California’s first major investment of the 21st century. In connecting the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles, the first phase of the project will run through the center of cities such as Fresno and Bakersfield that were bypassed when Interstate 5 was built. High-speed rail can now connect these cities more seamlessly with each other and reconnect them to the coast, which has the potential to improve their economies. It can also change California’s sprawling growth pattern by revitalizing downtowns and shifting some growth back toward urban centers, which will help to preserve important farmland and natural landscapes.
To fully realize these and other benefits, the improved accessibility that a fast train brings must be combined with targeted policies and investments that will transform the economies of intermediate station cities. This report makes a case for high-speed rail as a tool for reshaping economic growth and development in these cities. It identifies the barriers to this vision and proposes a series of state, regional and local policy and planning recommendations to fully capture the opportunity of this once-in-a-generation investment.