One is the defeatist's view. Interstate 20 is an efficient way to travel to Birmingham and Atlanta; plus, Anniston — the county's seat and largest town — has more-important things to spend its time on, from crime reduction to the improvement of public education to the redevelopment of its retail core.
The other is the optimist's view. Interstate 20 is a crowded, often-perilous way to travel, and any proposal that could allow Calhoun Countians quicker access to important points east and west is worth top consideration.
Hands down, the latter view is the winner.
A story on the front page of last Sunday's Star by reporter Dan Whisenhunt detailed the many and varied caveats to the high-speed rail saga in Alabama. It is not an uncomplicated story. At its heart is a lone figure — $8 billion, the amount of federal stimulus money the Obama administration has earmarked for the development of high-speed rail projects in America.
For once, the problem isn't cash.
Instead, the problem is the same ailment that's plagued high-speed rail projects in the United States for more than a generation. It's motivation — the lack of it, particularly at state and local levels.
One of the more damning portions of Whisenhunt's story highlighted the fact that more than one group of interested parties — including a task force for the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce — long ago had researched the possibility of high-speed rail in Anniston.
Another outfit, the Birmingham-based Finley Group, conducted a feasibility study on high-speed trains between Birmingham and Atlanta four years before the 1996 Olympics.
Of course, no such rail service was built before the Atlanta Games began. That idea died a slow death, and nothing of substance ever came of the chamber's task-force report. The toxic mixture of political malaise and declining public interest seemingly neutered the effectiveness of the groups' plan.
Today, decades after the high-speed rail idea was studied, written about and debated, the concept remains a concept, not a reality. No action. No construction. No high-speed rail service. Obama's stimulus package has awakened the hibernating beast that is advocating high-speed rail. But in most communities talk is all that's occurring — particularly in the South, and most definitely in Alabama.
"We need a paradigm shift in our thinking about transportation in Alabama," said the Finley Group's Richard Finley, who pointed a barbed finger at the state Department of Transportation for its over-reliance on building roads and bridges and reluctance to develop other forms of transportation.
Calhoun Countians should think of high-speed rail as a splendid opportunity, not a waste of money. Imagine living here, where the cost of living is low, where traffic isn't a big-city headache, and working in Birmingham or Atlanta. The prospects for employment, for school, and for play, for visitors and residents alike, could become boundless.
High-speed rail in the South, with a stop in Anniston, is a concept worthy of public embrace.
This is one time when the optimist's view is the clear winner.