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Californians want do-over on high-speed rail vote

Merrill Balassoneby Merrill Balassone
Thirty-nine percent of Californians say high-speed rail would be their preferred mode of travel between Southern California and the Bay Area.
Thirty-nine percent of Californians say high-speed rail would be their preferred mode of travel between Southern California and the Bay Area.

With California’s largest public works project still months away from breaking ground, seven out of 10 voters want another chance to vote on whether the state’s high-speed rail project should continue, according to the results of the latest USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll. Conducted Sept. 18-24, the poll found that 70 percent of voters wanted another chance to vote on whether the high-speed rail project should continue, as opposed to 27 percent who disagreed. More than half the voters, 52 percent, said the rail project should be stopped, as opposed to 43 percent who wanted the project to go forward. In 2008, California voters approved a ballot proposition to borrow $9 billion to help fund a high-speed rail line, which is supported by Gov. Jerry Brown and President Barack Obama. “It’s clear that most people who want a chance to vote again want that chance in order to change their vote,” said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. As proposed, the 520-mile train will go through the Central Valley, eventually connecting the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles. The fastest trip between the two largest cities in the state would take 2 hours and 40 minutes, and cost about $120 one way. A slim majority, 51 percent, agreed that the high-speed rail was a waste of taxpayer dollars, with 45 percent of voters disagreeing. “What we’re seeing is a lot of buyers’ remorse,” said David Kanevsky, research director of Republican polling firm American Viewpoint, which conducted the poll on behalf of USC and the Times with Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. “Voters are saying this is a ‘nice-to-have project,’ not a ‘need-to-have project.’ ” But voters also believe the high-speed rail could have benefits. When asked whether the rail would reduce traffic on highways and at airports, 61 percent agreed and 36 percent disagreed. Sixty-five percent of voters said the high-speed rail would create jobs, as opposed to 32 percent who disagreed with the statement. Nearly four in 10 Californians said high-speed rail would be their preferred mode of transportation between the Bay Area and Southern California: 39 percent of Californians said they would prefer to take high-speed rail if they needed to make the trip, compared to 32 percent who said they prefer to fly and 26 percent who would prefer to drive. “Most voters want to stop this high-speed rail project, but it may be more of an objection to the execution than to the concept,” said Drew Lieberman, vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. “A plurality of voters would choose high-speed rail over flying or driving, and the data indicate there’s a bloc of people who would want the chance to vote again, but might be looking for a better approach rather than doing away with the idea altogether.” Voters were also asked about Elon Musk’s “Hyperloop” concept, which would transport people at high speeds through an above-ground tube system in capsules. Nearly three in four voters said they knew “little or nothing” about the concept, as opposed to 26 percent who said they knew “a lot or some” about it. When asked if they would use Hyperloop at a cost of $20 one-way for a 30-minute trip, 55 percent of voters said they would take Hyperloop, compared to 13 percent who would take the high-speed train, 14 percent who would drive and 13 percent who would fly.

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