Infrastructural Implications of #Calexit

Yes California is angling for a Spring 2019 vote on whether California should remain a part of the United States. What would independence mean for California? For America?

Californian Infrastructure

California generally possesses excellent military and defense infrastructure. In addition to active bases, there are several mothballed or underutilized sites which could be reactivated. George, Norton, and Castle AFBs are all maintained as general aviation airports, and while portions of Hunters Point have been converted to condos, all of the existing moorage remains.

While largely geometrically obsolete, California’s roadway network has been maintained in serviceable condition and could easily last another 50 years with only asphalt overlays. Freight rail infrastructure is likewise in a state of generally good repair. As the existing rail networks belong to privately-held corporations headquartered in Omaha and Fort Worth, it is likely that the fledgling Nation of California would seek to nationalize its rail network.

Californian’s infrastructural weak point is water. Roughly 10% of the state’s water use comes from the Colorado River, and while the United States would likely sign some sort of short-term agreement to continue the supply, in the long run America can be expected to keep the Colorado for itself, leaving only a dry wash at the California border, similar to what currently exists at San Luis.

Los Angeles is fed by several other aqueducts, and could accommodate future growth using some combination of desalinization and rationing. However, agriculture in the Coachella Valley would take a hit. Hence, the highest-priority new project post-#Calexit (ignoring projects which are already on the drawing boards, like the Sacramento River tunnels) would likely be an intertie between the California Aqueduct’s East Branch and the Coachella Canal, as well as modifications to reverse the flow of the the Coachella Canal.

American Infrastructure

America likewise possesses excellent military and defense infrastructure. However, extending the forthcoming border wall to cover California would represent a substantial expense. The gold standard in post-Ming Dynasty international borders is Israel’s West Bank Barrier, constructed at a cost of approximately $3.5mm/mile; doubling this figure results in approximately $8bb for the Californian wall extension.

American highway, water, and rail infrastructure is more than sufficient for domestic needs. However, the the loss of the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, as well as associated transcontinental rail links, would leave the US woefully under-served given current levels of trade. As relations with newly-independent California would likely be strained, owing to the loss of Colorado water, additional capacity would need to be constructed.

Rail Links

Roughly two-thirds of current American rail to the Pacific flows through California. Outside of California, there are four available tracks through the Cascade Range; the BNSF (GN) over Stevens Pass, the BNSF (NP) over Stampede Pass, the BNSF (SP&S) along the north side of the Columbia River, and the UP along the south side of the Columbia River.

East of Spokane, all of BNSF’s transcontinental traffic is condensed onto the former GN line through Whitefish; the only other transcontinental line is Union Pacific via Ogden. Montana Rail Link operates the former NP lines as distributor routes, and could conceivably be reorganized to provide a third transcontinental route with minor track upgrades and administrative changes.

A fourth transcontinental track could be made available through reactivation of the Milwaukee Road, which currently exists as a series of rail-trails joined by long segments of abandoned roadbed. The Milwaukee was the last of the three Chicago-Seattle links to be built, and was constructed to the highest design standards; hotshot freights like the Apple Train could average 60mph or better over this route.

Beyond that, additional capacity could come from double-tracking one or more of these routes. As an alternative to double-tracking the UP through the Columbia River Gorge, existing trackage between Ontario and Burns, Oregon could be reactivated and extended west to Bend, where trains would utilize the existing Cascade crossing between Gilchrist and Eugene.

Port Sites

Incremental expansion of existing port facilities in Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland can’t come close to replacing lost California capacity, even if trade with Asia is somewhat reduced by more protectionist trade policy. The optimal location for a new Pacific port is a low-lying area with tideflats and marshlands which can be dredged and reshaped as needed. Several such sites exist. Roughly from north to south, they are:

Everett, Washington is relatively underdeveloped and contains several islands in the mouth of Snohomish River which could host intensive maritime activity. Expansion to the east is hampered by existing rail and roadway bridges, which would need to be rebuilt with increased clearances. Available rail capacity is good, with direct access to the Stevens Pass route and a largely double-track main line along Puget Sound. An independent connection to a reactivated Milwaukee Road could be made using existing trackage south of Snohomish via Renton, or by reconstructing abandoned trackage south of Monroe.

The Nisqually Delta is entirely undeveloped and is currently used as a wildlife refuge. Road and rail access is good, but this site would likely be politically controversial.

Aberdeen, Washington has many square miles of shallow bay which could host a major Pacific port. Rail access is poor, but the available line has good geometrics and could be double-tracked without significant disruption. A parallel rail line has been abandoned for 50 years, but has seen little development and could be reconstructed if demand warranted. Road access is via a four-lane expressway which could be upgraded to a six-lane freeway with minimal right-of-way acquisition.

Oregon’s Sauvie Island sits across from the Port of Portland, and is currently largely agricultural with some wildlife preserve. Rail and road access is poor and would require several new bridges across the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, as well as increased track capacity within the City of Portland. Columbia shipping is also hampered by the need to cross the Columbia Bar.

Other coastal sites like South Bend, Astoria, Tillamook, and Coos Bay have good land availability, but poor infrastructure. Rail links were constructed to low design standards, and most are abandoned; east-west highway connections are little more than farm to market roads.

Jeffersonian Democracy

One wrinkle in Californian independence concerns the fate of the State of Jefferson – a proposed secession of the northern California counties from California proper, to be joined (potentially) by southern Oregon counties.

Available port facilities within Jeffersonian territory have the same limitations as other minor coastal cities in Washington and Oregon. Assuming Jefferson remained a part of the United States, an additional transcontinental rail link would be gained by the inclusion of the UP (WP)’s route from Winnemucca to Klamath Falls via Keddie.

Depending on where the southern border is drawn, California could lose substantial water resources to Jefferson, especially if Shasta Lake was included. However, without substantial additional development, it is unlikely that Jefferson would exhaust Shasta’s water capacity, so international water sales could provide an additional revenue stream for the new state.

3 thoughts on “Infrastructural Implications of #Calexit”

  1. I love how you are thinking ahead in this post. But really, if California is allowed to go free, Oregon and Washington will not remain loyal subjects of DC for long. Cascadia will arise, or they will join a “Pacific States of America” or join Canada. The West Coast is capable of completely blockading US imports if needed (the labor union is already structured that way).

    The US will be very glad that Panama upsized their canal, because that is the only way the US could import from Asia during a trade blockade.

    1. Canada wouldn’t want Cascadia. The people I met in Vancouver were very clear on how they were superior to the US in every way – it was the bicentennial of the War of 1812, and they wouldn’t shut up about how they beat the US. Even the supposedly Canada-like parts like San Francisco and Portland are not good enough for them. And that was before Black Lives Matter let every other developed country go “the Americans are racist, but we don’t have racism – our minorities really are lazy.”

  2. Any scenario involving Cascadian secession is a scenario involving Cascadian partition, since I doubt Greater Spokane wishes to leave. Hence, some sort of Caprivi Strip scenario which preserves American naval and shipping infrastructure.

    Should Cascadia blockade ships of say, the soon-to-be-combined NYK/MOL/K-Line, I imagine the Japanese have some *very* dusty plans sitting in a *very* old cabinet somewhere which deal with that.

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