LOS ANGELES – A new poll finds California voters are experiencing buyers’ remorse over a proposed $68 billion bullet train project, as the number of lawsuits against the rail system grows.
Fifty-five percent of voters want to see the high-speed rail bond issue that was approved in 2008 back on the ballot, and 59 percent say they would now vote against it, according to the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times survey published Saturday.
Since the $9 billion borrowing plan was passed, the projected cost of the bullet train between Los Angeles and San Francisco has roughly doubled, and it will now share track with slower commuter and freight trains in some areas, the Times said.
A majority of voters have turned against the ambitious undertaking just as Gov. Jerry Brown is pushing lawmakers to approve the start of construction in the Central Valley later this year.
Powerful agriculture groups and freight railroads maintain that proposed routes would damage their interests and compromise safety. Schools, churches, businesses and homeowners are also opposed to the project.
On Friday, Central Valley farm groups filed a major environmental lawsuit in Sacramento County Superior Court, asking for a preliminary injunction to block rail construction. Plaintiffs include the Madera and Merced county farm bureaus and Madera County. The suit is one of several already on the books, and still more agricultural interests in the Central Valley are threatening to sue.
“We think a preliminary injunction against construction will occur because there were so many violations in the authority’s environmental impact report,” Anja Raudabaugh, executive director of the Madera County Farm Bureau, told the Times. The plaintiffs say the rail project would affect 1,500 acres of prime farm land and 150 agribusinesses in their region.
The poll found that concerns about the project extend across regions, ethnic groups, income brackets and even political affiliations, according to the Times. Among Democrats, initially the strongest supporters of the plan, only 43 percent would support the bond in a new vote, while 47 percent would oppose it. Seventy-six percent of Republicans would vote against it.
Voters have reconsidered their support for high-speed rail as lawmakers slash public programs to cope with a widening budget gap, said Dan Schnur, director of the poll and head of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.
“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 public education and law enforcement,” Unruh said.
In Southern California, 67 percent of voters said they would reject issuing high-speed rail bonds if they could vote again.
If the bullet train system is built, 69 percent said they would never or hardly ever ride it. No respondents – zero percent – said they would use it more than once a week.
The USC Dornsife/Times survey heard from 1,002 registered voters in mid-May. It was conducted by Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Republican polling firm American Viewpoint. The sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.