The Fresno Bee has taken to writing a front-page article about the California High Speed Rail (HSR) project every Sunday. On their part, it's an excellent idea. HSR is a huge project, not just for Fresno, but for the entire state and the country. Because Fresno is ground zero for the project, as construction is slated to start here first, it makes sense for the Bee to stake their claim and try and become the authoritative source on all news related to it. Not only will that preserve their subscription base, but it grows web readership as their articles are linked into from around the country.
To become THE source on news related to the HSR project, the Bee needs to ensure their reporting is fair, accurate and provides a good level of investigation. Unfortunately, if the past two weeks are an indication of what's to come, the Bee is trying to get cheap hits by creating controversy. The Bee is doing this by creating articles that hold the project to a much higher standard than any other form of project.
This previous Sunday, the headline was as follows:
High-speed rail construction will give Valley's bad air a big bump before reductions take hold
The report itself is certainly not false. The issue is not that the Bee is making stuff up (I'm sure the numbers are right) but that the angle doesn't make much sense. That is, is it news if it's so obvious? Instead of acting as news, it seems more like an attempt to add some controversy to the front page.
Construction causes pollution. This is true. This is not a surprise. The HSR authority has never stated that it wouldn't be the case. Its a no-brainer really.
If there was news here, it would be that the HSR project will cause x times more (or less) pollution than other construction projects. Except that the article never mentions any other form of construction at all. We are given zero comparison points. The closest the Bee gets is here:
The pollution anticipated from high-speed rail construction would be a small fraction of emissions already generated in the region. But in the Valley, already struggling to meet state and federal air-quality standards, any extra pollution is a major worry, said David Barber, of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
What exactly is a small fraction? We're given a fancy table of numbers, but for 99% of the readers, "56 tons of ROC" means nothing at all.
The only other hint of what the amount actually means is this, where the article points out some of the mitigation
Some of that money could go to the air district's incentive programs, which include helping homeowners replace gas-powered lawnmowers with low-cost electric ones, and helping businesses, farmers and industries replace or upgrade trucks and machinery, said Samir Sheihk, the district's director of strategies and incentives.
If replacing lawnmowers will cover a good portion of the pollution, then it can't be too much we're talking about, can it? ....I have no idea, the article gives us absolutely no reference points.
Besides giving us absolutely no frame of reference to what giving "bad air a big bump" actually means, the Bee fails to hold any other project accountable for similar levels of pollution that may be caused due to diesel construction vehicles and dirt being moved around.
The HSR project is of course one big undertaking, but is it more or less than the hundreds of smaller projects Fresno sees every year? The Bee has not shed any light on this.
When a new project is approved, I don't ever remember the news being accompanied with a breakdown of pollutants to be caused by the construction.
There are dozens of road projects going on in the Fresno area every year, most of them involving widening roads. How many front page stories do they get? None of course. What pollutants do they cause? No idea. There's been no reporting.
So why hold the HSR project to a standard that nothing else is held to?
I'm not just talking about small projects either. Remember the massive expansion/extension project of 180 last year?
If you recall, that project took out miles and miles of farmland, such as in this example.
It is certainly comparable to the rail project, but I can't recall the Bee trying to stir up controversy for it.
Other examples include....
-The constant widening of Herndon. Just last week yet another lane was approved near 41, which the Bee didn't bother mentioning, let alone investigating.
-The widening of all the 41 on ramps last year
-The widening of Peach...and dozens of other streets
Or even commercial projects like the massive wal-mart/dicks project...or one of the other 5 brand new wal-marts in the area. We got lots of articles on the lawsuits by folks concerned they'd be put out of business, or the future traffic impact....but pollution during the construction phase? Not really.
And what of all the little projects, that when taken together, add up to a giant impact?
On Monday, I decided to take the day off and go on a quick 45 minute bike ride. In just 45 minutes, covering well under 10 miles, here are some construction sites I went by. On their own, the environmental effects must be low....but add them all up. And then add up all the projects going around in Fresno county right now. And then add up 20 years worth of construction projects (The HSR time frame). I'm thinking the HSR project is a drop in the bucket when you add up everything.
We'll start at Shaw at Locan, which is being widened from 2 lanes...to 6. Besides a couple of months of construction by heavy vehicles, this project will result in more pollution for many, many decades, unlike HSR which has the opposite effect.
Just north of this, a new subdivision is going in. This process involves over a year of heavy machinery. All those new homes will certainly not be reducing air pollution once they attract owners.
A parcel north of that, on Locan and Bullard, is being prepared. That will include road widening on both Locan and Bullard.
On nearby Gettysburg, a housing development is going in. Lots of brand new streets built by lots of heavy machinery.
Just south of that, On Ashlan and DeWolfe, more heavy construction.
On Ashlan and Locan, crews are getting ready to widen Locan...
To handle the traffic generated by the hundreds of new homes
Further south, also on Locan, they're getting ready to widen it just north of Shields.
That's for an enormous development.
So again, all that is happening in a 2 mile stretch of Locan Avenue, all taken this past Monday.
What are the cumulative effects of the construction on our air? Was that ever taken into account when approving the projects? As a daily reader of the Bee, have no clue.
The Bee should absolutely report on HSR, and that means being critical at times. The Bee should also definitely be concerned about our air quality, but hitting on the project that will promote clean transportation while not saying a word about the dozens of projects that will increase our local air pollution is poor reporting.