Will Politicians Suffer for Opposing High Speed Rail?
In California media outlets often like to ask whether Governor Jerry Brown or state legislators will suffer for supporting high speed rail. Their assumption is that the risky move when it comes to HSR is to back it, and that opposing it comes at little political cost.
But that may not be an accurate reflection of reality. In Florida, right-wing governor Rick Scott killed the state’s high speed rail project in early 2011 shortly after taking office. Today a new poll shows that swing voters in Florida disagreed with that decision, potentially putting Scott’s re-election chances at risk:
A majority of I-4 corridor voters did not like Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s decision to cancel plans for a high-speed rail line that would have linked Tampa and Orlando, according to a new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/Central Florida 13 poll.
Fifty-one percent said Scott should not have rejected $2.4 billion in federal money to construct the rail line, compared to 39 percent who supported Scott’s decision and 10 percent who were unsure….
Meanwhile, Scott himself remains relatively unpopular, with 48 percent of I-4 voters disapproving of his job performance, compared to 42 percent who approve of his work.
The Interstate 4 corridor, from Tampa Bay through Orlando to Daytona Beach, is one of America’s most important political regions. It grew rapidly during the ’00s boom and was key to Bush’s 2004 victory. In 2008, the region flipped to Obama and handed him Florida’s electoral votes. In 2012 it’s up in the air. If you want to govern Florida, or win its crucial electoral votes and become president, you would do well to earn the votes of the I-4 corridor.
And its voters wanted high speed rail.
They clearly understood its benefits. They knew that traffic on I-4 was a disaster and that no amount of widening would solve it. They knew that high speed rail would have provided a good alternative, even if it was at first just a short route. And even after hearing all the arguments against it, they still wanted it, and may well hold it against Rick Scott in 2014 when he asks for their votes a second time.
Republicans and wealthy NIMBYs want politicians to believe that voters don’t want bullet trains, that they’d rather stick with a failing status quo. But as we saw at the ballot box in November 2008, that’s not true. And as we saw in the state Capitol in July 2012, elected leaders know it’s not true.
Public support for high speed rail is much stronger and more widespread than the critics would have you believe. And even as we struggle through the great backlash to sustainability and mass transit, as the defenders of the failed methods of the 20th century make one last effort to preserve their discredited ways, we need to remember that the public hasn’t turned on us. Keep the faith, fellow rail advocates. We are going to break through the roadblocks the opposition has placed in front of us, and we won’t rest until we’ve built an electric rail network, from local streetcars to interregional bullet trains and everything between, across this whole country.