Let me say it again: JOBS.
Construction of the initial high-speed rail segment would create literally tens of thousands of jobs. Moreover, those jobs would be targeted at a particularly depressed area of the state.
Here is the choice we are presented with: In this economic crisis, we are faced with millions of people who find themselves out of work, and who are spending their time chasing after such menial employment as fast-food and retail jobs– and, even then, largely not finding them. As things sit today, we as a society are supporting them through unemployment insurance, food stamps, and (if they have children) a host of other social safety net programs. It is altogether proper for us to do so, and to try to reduce human misery among us.
However, at the same time, these programs do cost money, and while they do get that money flowing through the local economy, they produce little long-term social benefit. During the Depression, we understood this, and we chose to employ millions of people constructing things that would produce just such a lasting benefit. The Works Progress Administration built thousands of publicly useful projects around the nation, including roads, bridges, water systems, and the bulk of the South Carolina library system. You can still find WPA stamps on sidewalks and curbs in older parts of Riverside. Instead of paying people to look for scarce, menial work in the private sector, public works projects pay people to build something that will yield dividends for years to come.