By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor

Just imagine if Abraham Lincoln, in addition to challenging the wrath of the South, had to contend with property owners and lawyers as he pondered the viability of the Transcontinental Railroad – all this in his spare time as he stared down the Confederate Army and “preserved the union.”

Imagine President Dwight Eisenhower, the man who beat the Nazi menace, having to put up with the same sort of naysayers who claimed the billions needed for his Federal Interstate Highway system simply wasn’t worth the cost.

What if just a few more voters in San Francisco voted against the California State Water Project in 1960 and ended Governor Pat Brown’s vision of a California connected to mighty concrete-laden rivers of water, waterways that eventually turned valley deserts into fields of grain and cotton?

The naysayers and the hypocrites have always been among us, challenging the technical, environmental and technological progress that has always been at the core of American exceptionalism. They are as American as Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and as wrong as those who would have scuttled the Transcontinental Railroad and the Federal Interstate Highway program – all because it was too expensive or it may have trampled a few hundred acres of cotton.

Without the railroad we’d still be steaming around the Cape of Good Hope as we made our way to New York or San Francisco. Without the interstate highways we’d still be getting our “kicks on Route 66.”

We are currently in one of those “just imagine” scenarios as we make agonizingly slow progress on the California High Speed Rail project, approved by voters several years ago, but hijacked by those same form of naysayers who  said it’s just too expensive and not needed.

We say nonsense. The railroad, highway system, and water system all set the stage for an economic boom unheard of in the modern world. Millions of jobs have been created, agriculture has flourished, and interstate commerce, thanks to thousands of miles of reliable highways, has far exceeded expectations.

The same holds true for high-speed rail, but the naysayers are still among us. Kings County politicians and local activists have filed two lawsuits in an attempt to put a halt to the project. One lawsuit suggests that the section of rail scheduled to be built in the Valley would cause “extensive significant adverse impacts to agriculture, air quality, land use, aesthetics and visual resources, cultural resources, biological resource and wetlands, parks and recreation resources, a hospital, churches and hundreds of homes.”

Opponents in Kings County also suggest that a high speed rail line would “result in the destruction of or substantial interference with thousands of acres of farmland” and more. An earlier lawsuit, filed in 2012, contends that the rail authority's plan violates Proposition 1A, the $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure approved by voters in 2008.

Recently, a San Rafael-based group, the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, which opposes California's high-speed rail project, filed a lawsuit contesting the state's plan to fund it with money from a greenhouse gas emissions program, and argued that building the $68 billion bullet train would create more pollution than it would reduce for at least a decade. The group suggests that the High Speed Rail Authority didn’t do enough homework as it evaluated the environmental effects of constructing the railway.

Here we are in the 21st Century and we can’t seem to get anything of substance accomplished anymore. We have become a country hijacked by a minority of people intent on halting advancement for the greater good simply because of their own narrow, selfish interests.

Yes, a high-speed rail probably will cut a path through valuable farm land and displace businesses and homes, as did just about every significant transportation or water project of the 20th Century. In the short term, it certainly may adversely affect the air quality.

That’s in the short term. What about the long-term potential of high-speed rail?

While I’m hesitant to repeat the well-established talking points issued by various proponents of high-speed rail, there are obviously numerous advantages. Ideally high-speed rail will move people and goods more efficiently, create thousands of jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce our reliability on foreign oil, and reduce our dependence on building new highways, which can be as or more expensive that rail.

Rail can revitalize cities by creating businesses around hubs as well as foster economic development. No wonder Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearingin, a Republican, and the leading candidate for California State Controller, believes in high-speed rail.

Like Mayor Swearingin, I believe high-speed rail is good for our economy and good for job creation. The long-term potential for high-speed rail means improved transportation, more jobs, and cleaner air. I think that’s something we can all believe in.