Will Politicians Suffer for Opposing High Speed Rail?

Posted on 31 October 2012

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By Robert Cruickshank

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.

Robert Cruickshank writes on California politics at Calitics and California High Speed Rail Blog. This article was originally published at California High Speed Rail Blog.

Point of order - the HSR line from Tampa to Orlando is not the same as a HSR line from Fresno to Bakersfield. Big difference.

Secondary point of order - if the Governor is threatening cuts to education while supporting HSR, there is a glaring problem there. It's like, "We can't afford to send the kids to school but we can still buy this Cadillac."

I love the idea of HSR. I also love the idea of owning a Cadillac and a house in Monterey. Unfortunately, I must live within my means.

Characterizing California High Speed Rail as "Fresno to Bakersfield" is to perpetuate the luddites BIG LIE. The blended approach kills THAT complaint. Yes, it will take twenty years to do this. SO WHAT? California spends $billions on transportation that is unsustainably costly. A two track HSR route on 200 foot right of way has the same capacity as a TEN LANE highway on 400 foot row.

Oil free electrified HSR will reduce oil imports, pollution, land use/run off wastewater, etc. ALL of our important trade partners overseas (including the oil rich Mideast) are planning/building/using HSR and it has become the mode of choice for medium distance travel. AND, unlike highways and short haul air it covers it's operating costs. The highway trust fund has been broke for a decade and we can't even begin to maintain the highway based boondoggle we've created.

But the Fresno-Bakersfield is pointless. It does not make HSR a valuable resource, and that's what it needs to be as soon as possible in order to prove it can be successful.

Sacramento to San Francisco would have been far more useful. That's where I would start, or better - LA to Bakersfield to Vegas. As it stands now it just has boondoggle written all over it.

In recent catastrophic storm brought in by the hurricane Sandy and the devastation it has brought to the East Coast and the infrastructure of those part of the country affected by it and counting the recent past of the devastation hurricane Katrina to the south coast of Louisiana and Mississippi and along the west coast of florida; have we not learned that perhaps our tax dollar may be put to better use building the infrastructure much needed NOW; that will protect California Coast and Delta from such catastrophic flood as the rising coastal and delta water is eminent caused by the global warming? Bart and the underground light rail in San Francisco and the other underground lightrails and other needed infrastructure needed to be protected and from the foreseeable devastation from floods and earthquakes in California. WE have some serious infrastructure issues in California. The roads from north to south a so bad that it is incomparable to Arizona or Nevada to the East or to Oregon and Washington to the North. What happened to all the money collected from the tax-payers of California in the past several decades since 1966? The resulting "budget deficit" does not add up. It is hardly inconcievable that the Californians are willing to accept and do NOTHING about the waste, fraud and mismanagement of our treasury when WE ALL KNOW that it exist. It doesn't take alot to bring about accountability to our system of government. If the politicians and the politics that has a hold in them from doing what is right and those we elected is unwilling to face up to this problem then it is up to us people--the citizens who have a stake at our State to do something about it and demand our elected officials for answers. They ARE afterall are accountable to the citizens of California. WE HAVE the most beautiful coastal property in the nation and IF WE DON'T protect it and have the infrastructure TO PROTECT IT, then what use will it be to have a HIGH SPEED RAIL? HSR will bring jobs; but so will bringing our current infrastructure up-to-date and building the infrastructure that will protect our COAST and the CITIES along the DELTA.

This is an opportunity to learn.......WE CAN NOT AFFORD and IGNORE OUR OWN PROBLEM and WE CAN NOT wait until the devastation that was brought Katrina and Sandy to the east and south coast to come to us UNPREPARED. WITH very limited resources, WE should be SMART about how we can accomplish all and do it with PRIORITY. Safety First for all; before all else, and/or all conveniences.