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Californians rethinking support of high-speed rail project, USC poll finds


A new poll released by the University of Southern California’s (USC) Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Los Angeles Times indicates that a majority of Californians now would oppose building a new high-speed rail (HSR) system in the state if given another chance to vote on it.

In 2008, Californians approved a ballot measure to borrow $9 billion to help fund the construction of a HSR line. As now proposed, the 520-mile line will run through the state’s Central Valley, eventually connecting the San Francisco area to Los Angeles.

About 55 percent of Californians polled said they wanted another chance to vote on whether the state should advance with borrowing for HSR, agreeing with the statement that “the plan for the project has changed, the total costs have increased and there are doubts that high-speed rail can actually turn a profit,” university officials said in a prepared statement.

Conversely, 36 percent of respondents said the electorate should not be asked to vote on the project again, and agreed with the statement that “a new vote could halt any planned construction, and even though the plan has changed, the intent is the same, voters have already committed funding and the project will finish earlier than expected.”

Those who wish to vote on the matter again expressed concern about the state’s budget problems as a reason for rethinking the HSR project, said Dan Schnur, the poll’s director and director of USC’s Unruh Institute of Politics.

“The growing budget deficit is making Californians hesitant about spending so much money on a project like this one when they’re seeing cuts to education and law enforcement,” he said. “But they also seem to be wary as to whether state government can run a big speed rail system effectively.”

Analyzed by region, the poll results showed that San Francisco-area residents were most likely to back HSR: 47 percent said they would vote in favor of funding it, while 45 percent said they would oppose funding it. In L.A. County, 37 percent of respondents supported HSR and 56 percent opposed it. And in the Central Valley, 21 percent of respondents favored HSR and 66 percent were opposed.

Also, 52 percent said they had not traveled between Southern California and San Francisco in the past year. Of those who had made the trip, 6 percent traveled by plane and 28 percent by car.

Overall, 68 percent who said they do ride a train several times a year also said they support HSR. Of those who said they would never use the HSR system, 11 percent said they still supported the project, while 82 percent said they oppose it.

About 33 percent of voters said that HSR would be their preferred mode of transportation between Southern California and the San Francisco Bay area.

“Californians aren’t necessarily against the idea of high-speed rail,” Schnur said. “But they don't want to spend all that money right now, and they don't trust the state to make the trains run on time.”

Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Republican polling firm American Viewpoint conducted the poll of 1,002 registered voters from May 17-21. The margin of error is +/-3.5 percentage points.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 6/7/2012