One of the things that struck me about the recently released revised and “realistic” business plan for the California High-Speed Rail system was the fact that it will take 21 years to complete. And, of course, that the whole system would cost $98.1 billion.

(How they came up with this exact amount – ninety-eight POINT ONE billion – is beyond me, and even if they estimated possible funding “delays and availability” and an annual inflation rate of 3%, there was no mention of potential recessions, depressions or politics along the way. In 20 years, $98.1 billion will seem like chump change. Plus, saying that the cost of a ticket between San Francisco and Los Angeles would be $81 in today’s dollars is extreme wishful thinking.)

Keep in mind also that the Interstate Highway System project that President Dwight D. Eisenhower shepherded in 1956 constructed 40,000 miles of highway of the planned 42,000 miles by 1980. That’s 24 years and a lot of highway. I’m just saying…

Anyway, an older reader of the San Francisco Chronicle sent a letter saying that even though he’s paying for the system, he won’t be around to use it, so “who cares?”

The “phased” approach to the San Francisco-Anaheim project, of course, will allow the High-Speed Rail Authority to adapt to changing financial conditions as it moves along. The first phase is locked in: a 130-mile stretch from Bakersfield to north of Fresno, funded by state bond money and federal stimulus funds totaling $6 billion. Even if they put trains on that section when completed in 2017, I’m not sure about the passenger interest.

Then the next segment – called the “initial operating section” – will be determined: Either Merced to the San Fernando Valley (at $27.2 billion) or San Jose to Bakersfield ($24.7 billion). Completion is scheduled for 2021.

However, even though I’m skeptical about the whole project, I’m not really a “who cares?” kind of guy, but actually a “why not?” type. As the Engineering & Utility Contractors Association reminds us, this high-speed rail system is expected to create 100,000 jobs in the next five years, and generate another 1 million jobs moving forward. Somehow, in this day and age, it all seems worth it.