Californians turn against high-speed rail project, poll finds
A controversial $68-billion high-speed rail project in California has lost support from a majority of Californians, a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found.
Across the state, 55% of the voters want the bond issue that was approved in 2008 placed back on the ballot, and 59% say they now would vote against it.
Since voters approved that $9-billion borrowing plan, the state and national economic outlook has dimmed and some of the promises about the bullet train have been compromised. Its projected cost has roughly doubled, and it will now share track with slower commuter and freight trains in some areas. Powerful agriculture groups and freight railroads have asserted that proposed routes would damage their interests and compromise safety. Churches, schools, businesses and homeowners are fighting the project.
The poll shows that concerns about the project extend broadly across regions, ethnic groups, income brackets and even political affiliations. In Southern California, 67% of voters said they would reject issuing bullet train bonds if they could vote again.
Although organized labor has been among the biggest proponents of the project, 56% of union households now would reject the state funding plan, the poll found. Even among Democrats, the strongest backers of the project, only 43% would support the bond in a new vote, while 47% would oppose it. And 76% of Republicans would vote it down.
The poll found that most voters don't expect to use it. Sixty-nine percent said they would never or hardly ever ride it. Zero percent said they would use it more than once a week. Public opinion surveys cannot predict the revenues and ridership a rail service might generate. The poll results raise questions about whether the system would serve as a robust commuter network, allowing people to live in small towns and work in big cities or vice versa. On the other hand, 33% of respondents said they would prefer a bullet train over an airplane or car on trips between L.A. and the Bay Area.
The USC Dornsife/L.A. Times survey contacted 1,002 registered voters in mid-May. Two other polls last year also found shrinking support for the project, which was approved by 52.7% of voters in 2008. A third poll this year also found likely voters opposed the project, though adults in general favor it by a small margin.
Photo: Dan Richard of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, center, at a Sacramento news conference in November. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press