New Poll Shows State Split on HSR Project
A new poll from the California Business Roundtable and Pepperdine University includes a question about the state’s high speed rail project, showing the public is split in their opinion on the project:
Please read the following statements about the high speed rail project and indicate which statement you agree with most:
a) We should keep funding the high speed rail project because it is creating badly needed jobs and because we need an economical and environmentally-friendly way to move people up and down our growing state: 39%
b) We should stop the high speed rail project because the taxpayer price tag has exploded from the advertised $10 billion to nearly $70 billion and we need to pay down our state debt and prioritize funding programs like education: 43.6%
c) Unsure/don’t know: 17.4%
A 39-43 split is actually not that bad, especially given some other recent polls that suggested the anti-HSR position had greater public support. My guess is that since the legislature’s approval of releasing the HSR funds in July the number of supporters has risen. And that is probably due to the fact that, for the first time in years, pro-HSR messages got out to the broad public through the mainstream media (not for lack of trying on our part). Since early 2010 the message one saw on TV and in the papers on HSR was increasingly and almost unceasingly negative. So it should be no surprise that took a toll.
But there’s another point about this poll I want to make. The anti statement is not entirely accurate or fair. I don’t fault the pollsters because I would agree that their b) statement is a faithful representation of the anti-HSR message.
The problem is that it’s flawed. First, the cost estimate given in 2008 was $33 billion, not $10 billion. Second, the implication is that the cost estimate rose because of mismanagement or waste. In fact, the cost estimate changed in part because the rules about how you make the estimate changed (from current year to year of expenditure, assuming inflation that may not actually happen).
More importantly, the cost estimate also changed because the nature of the project itself changed. The $33 billion estimate was an early estimate that came before a lot of the detailed design and engineering work was completed. Since 2008, we’ve learned more about what the project actually looks like on the ground. That has helped create a much more stable $68 billion cost estimate, one that isn’t likely to change without significant changes to the design.
So it’s true that the cost estimate has risen, but that’s not a sign of a flawed project, as anti-HSR forces want you to believe.