Poll Show Loss of Public Support for California's High-Speed Rail Project

Up to two-thirds of voters would change their support for California's high-speed rail system, according to a Field Poll released Tuesday.

64% would invite another vote on Prop 1a, the 2008, $9 billion bond measure. If a new election was held, 59% say they would oppose it.

Prop 1a was approved in November 2008 with a 52.6% of the vote.

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In 2011, the California High-Speed Rail Authority "limped" under increasing political opposition, even with reaffirmed support of Gov. Jerry Brown and a release of a new business plan, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Budget and bad press may be the tipping point, adds The California Report.

77% of respondents were aware of the project's goal to take travelers between San Francisco and Los Angeles under 3 hours, and that now it will cost more than expected before the inaugural train leaves its station. Costs doubled to $98.5 billion and the completion date moved from 2020 to 2033, according to an early November business plan released by the authority.

"[Voters have] really been had. I think the people of California are finding out that they want a re-bid and a re-vote," Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, told San Jose Mercury News.

Another critic is Rep. John Mica, the Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, reports the Sacramento Bee in a separate story covering a Tuesday congressional hearing. In the article, Mica stated that California was the nation's best hope for high-speed rail, but the project is in disarray. The same report has Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood admitting that the project is expensive, but adds the Obama Administration would not be dissuaded by "critics and naysayers."

The poll comes on the heels of the news that the GOP-led House blocked potential future federal funding for high-speed rail, a project that began with support from the Obama Administration.

Other supporters of high-speed rail claim the poll did not frame questions neutrally. "By framing the project as one beset by cost overruns, without listing any of the other project benefits or the costs of not building HSR, it should be no surprise that they got results like this," says Robert Cruickshan at the California High Speed Rail Blog, pointing to a February 2011 rail-specific Harris Poll that found 70% still supported HSR. "That support didn't collapse between then and now. It's all about how the question is asked."

"Due to changes in its estimated cost and completion date, should the legislature put the High Speed Rail project bonds up for another public vote?" were one of the questions asked in the Nov. 15-27 random sample poll of 1,000 registered California voters covering issues other than high-speed rail, and then a random sub sample of 515 voters.

The sampling error margin of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. It is the first measurement of public opinion about the California High-Speed Rail since 2008.

About the Author

Ed Fuentes is an arts journalist, photographer, graphic designer, and digital muralist who covers a variety of topics and geographies in Southern California for KCET.
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