Mountain View Voice

News - December 9, 2011

Public opinion swings against high-speed rail plan

by Gennady Sheyner

As the price tag for California's proposed high-speed-rail system continues to swell, so does public opposition to the voter-approved project, a new poll has found.

Nearly two-thirds of the voters surveyed by Field Poll said they would welcome a new vote on the project, which has seen its estimated cost nearly triple since voters approved a $9.95 billion bond for the rail system in 2008. Voters also, by nearly a two-to-one margin, said they would reject the bond package if it were resubmitted to them.

The poll was conducted in the middle of November, two weeks after the California High-Speed Rail Authority released an updated business plan showing the cost of the proposed line rising from an earlier estimate of $43 billion to $98.5 billion.

The poll showed that 64 percent of the surveyed voters said they would support another public vote on the project, while 30 percent said they would oppose such a vote and 6 percent said they have no opinion. The poll also indicates that the desire to hold another vote transcends party lines. It showed 57 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of Republicans and 73 percent of nonpartisan voters favor a new vote.

"There is strong sentiment for holding another vote across all partisan subgroups and irrespective of how voters may have voted on the project in the 2008 election," the poll states.

The poll also suggests that if another election were to take place, the project would be a tough sell. Of those surveyed, 59 percent said they would now vote against the project. This includes 73 percent of Republicans, 61 percent of nonpartisan voters and 49 percent of Democrats (40 percent of surveyed Democrats said they would support it).

The Field Poll question stated:

"Nine billion dollars in state bonds were approved by California voters for the High Speed Rail project in the November 2008 election. At the time, the project's estimated cost was $43 billion and its targeted completion date was 2020. More current estimates now put its cost at $98 billion and its completion date as 2033. Some think that the state legislature should resubmit the bond package to voters for another public vote next year.

Regardless of how you feel about the project, do you favor or oppose the legislature putting the 9 billion dollar state bond package to another public vote in next year's statewide elections?"

The poll result underscores the continuing uncertainty about the proposed rail system's funding plan and revenue projections. Over the past month, the new business plan been criticized by the Legislative Analyst's Office, the Palo Alto-based watchdog group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design and various legislators questioning the rail authority's plan to fund the system. The Palo Alto City Council, which supported the project in 2008, is now considering taking a firm stance against it and calling for state legislators to either pull the plug on high-speed rail or call for another election.

Some in the state Legislature have long questioned the rail authority's proposal to build the line. Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, has emerged as one of the leading critics of the project.

"What was sold to the people in California is not what we now see in the business plan," Harkey said during a Nov. 29 hearing on the project.

In response to the poll, the rail authority released a statement highlighting reasons for proceeding with the project, including the 100,000 jobs the authority expects high-speed rail to generate.

"To backpedal on this project means we reject billions in stimulus funds, lose 100,000 new jobs and, ultimately, pay tens of billions more for congested highways in the long run," the authority said in a statement. "The uncertain economy may give some voters pause, but this kind of infrastructure investment and job creation is exactly what we need at this time and we will be making that case to Californians across the state who voted to start this project in 2008."

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