That's the latest polling numbers from JMM Research on our high speed rail project, as quoted on the front page of the Wall Street Journal today:
California has long talked about a high-speed rail line to connect the San Francisco Bay Area to Southern California. After years of chatter about the project, a $10 billion bond measure to start construction will be put to a vote this year. Last month, 62% of voters polled by JMM Research said they would support the bond measure, up from 52% in November. Voters cited having an "affordable" transportation alternative, "reducing dependence of foreign oil" and "reducing traffic congestion" as reasons for supporting measure. "You could start seeing [voter opinion] turn in May, when gas was $4.50 to $5 a gallon here," says JMM Research President Jim Moore.
JMM Research is the in-house pollster for the official HSR campaign, but their previous polls were confirmed by the Field Poll, the state's most respected polling outfit, last month. 62% is a wonderful number, but I'm not overconfident - Prop 1(A) is going to be hard-fought struggle going into the November election. It's going to take a lot of effort and work to win this.
The poll is quoted in the context of a much bigger article on how high gas prices are changing the American economy. The article makes many of the same points I made on Sunday - that only long-term demand destruction, accomplished through the provision of alternatives, is going to allow us to handle this crisis without economic disaster.
Those who would point to the recent easing of gas prices as evidence that the crisis is over have missed the point entirely - gas prices have eased only because Americans started cutting back on their consumption. What that means is if the reduced consumption is not sustained and expanded, prices WILL rise again.
The WSJ article isn't perfect, though. Right after the section quoted above on HSR comes this:
Harvard University urban economist Edward Glaeser says there are limits to how much the U.S. can be expected to follow Europe and Japan. The U.S. population grew nearly fourfold in the 20th century, an increase that coincided with the rise of the automobile. Motor travel reshaped the country, allowing people to move away from the old coastal cities and transport hubs. In Europe and Japan, much of the population growth occurred before car travel took hold, so people are still clustered around old transport hubs. That makes it easier to forgo car travel.
However, as the article points out, high gas prices are destroying exurban growth and sprawl and driving people into the "old coastal cities and transport hubs." And as Matt Melzer pointed out last month, California's population distribution patterns closely resemble those of Spain, where HSR has been an outstanding success.
The WSJ article doesn't examine peak oil but it does suggest that the cost of oil isn't coming down anytime soon:
Demand from rapidly growing economies of China and India make lasting oil-price declines less likely these days. Despite the market's recent fall, prices remain above the prior inflation-adjusted peak of $106.15, set in April 1980.
The high prices have been a drag on an economy already sagging due to the housing downturn and shaky credit markets. Auto sales have fallen, airlines are cutting back on flights, small trucking firms are going out of business, and transportation costs are eating into corporate profits.
Much of the way America has come to live and do business is predicated on low energy prices.
It's becoming clear to businessmen and government leaders around the world that HSR is necessary for a prosperous 21st century economy. But those in California who complain about grade separations in Menlo Park, or the Pacheco alignment, or the possibility of small cost overruns here and there, are deliberately ignoring those fundamental, big picture issues.
California has lots of transportation needs, let there be no doubt about it. HSR won't solve them all. But by providing faster in-region commutes and faster in-state travel, using a sustainable, cheap, and potentially renewable energy source not dependent on high oil costs, HSR will help Californians reduce their oil consumption. As the WSJ explained, that in turn produces savings, jobs, and economic growth.
Ten years from now when HSR is up and running we'll look back on this debate and wonder why there was any hesitancy at all.