October 1, 2013
By Marc Bussanich
New York, NY—Major media outlets reported over the weekend a poll showing 52 percent of California voters want to stop the country’s first true high speed rail system because it’ll cost too much money. But the California building trades believes the project will move forward because it still has strong political support.
Construction was supposed to start this past summer on a 29-mile segment in the state’s Central Valley, but legal challenges have temporarily halted construction. California’s proposed high speed rail network will be the country’s biggest public works project in decades. The plan calls for building an 800-mile network that will eventually connect San Diego with San Francisco and Sacramento.
According to the poll, conducted on behalf of the Los Angeles Times and University of Southern California, 51 percent of voters agreed that the bullet train project will be a waste of taxpayer dollars. But the poll also revealed that 65 percent of Californians agreed, compared to 32 percent, that the massive project will help create jobs and the economy.
Sandy Harrison, communications director for the 400,000-member State Building & Construction Trades Council of California, said the union is very hopeful the project will go forward because some of the Golden State’s leading politicians support it. Governor Jerry Brown first proposed the project when he was governor in the 1980s. The Governor signed a bill in July 2012 after the legislature approved construction financing of up to $4.5 billion in bonds (which voters approved in November, 2008) that was matched with $3.2 billion in federal funding.
“We don’t interpret the poll to mean that there’s a mandate to stop high speed rail. We think that the many advantages of the project still warrant its going forward and we don’t think it reflects real sentiment that people don’t want the benefits of high speed rail,” said Harrison.
The state’s building trades is not dissuaded by the poll and the project’s temporary halt, and neither is business. Tutor Perini Corporation, the California-based construction company that won the contract to build out the project’s first segment (and is also building the Hudson Yards project), just opened up new offices in Fresno.
While opponents of California’s high speed rail say the project will be a boondoggle, Harrison said the union strongly favors the project because it’ll generate much needed job opportunities for building tradesmen.
“The short term impact will be enormous in the construction jobs that’ll be created, about 160,000 of them. The long term economic value is simply salvaging our transportation system. If we allow our transportation system to continue to stagnate, that’s lost economic value,” Harrison said.
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