California High-Speed Rail Authority officials are traveling to the nation's capital this week to drum up federal support for rail projects, armed with what they say is new evidence that state residents want an alternative to flying and driving.
The trip comes a week before they plan to submit an application for a share of $2.3 billion in federal stimulus funds.
Authority officials are aiming to persuade administration officials and Congressional leaders with the results of a recent survey of state voters that they say shows statewide support for the 800-mile rail network.
Over a weeklong period in May, a public affairs research firm contacted 800 registered California voters by phone to assess their knowledge of and attitudes toward the $45 billion project that would eventually link Sacramento to San Diego.
According to the findings, 34 percent of those surveyed said they support moving forward with the project, said Lori Weigel, a partner with Public Opinion Strategies, one of the firms that conducted the survey.
Another 42 percent said they tentatively support the project but have reservations about the timing and the cost.
"Those who have heard the most about the project have tended to be the most supportive," Weigel said.
She noted that residents of the Bay Area, which has dozens of transit agencies, provided "even more positive responses," given their "feelings and familiarity with transit."
The survey results were not broken down geographically, but populations were represented proportionally, Weigel said. That is, the communities that would be most affected by the rail line had more residents surveyed.
Some Bay Area communities - especially those along the Peninsula, where the high-speed rail tracks would cut through 16 cities between San Francisco and San Jose - have called for the authority to address their concerns about the project before it moves forward.
Authority representatives said today that the intent of the survey was not to highlight regional support for the project, but to demonstrate to federal leaders that Californians as a whole want to see the rail line built.
The government agency prepared the survey to leverage support for the project - funded by a mix of taxpayer dollars and private sector investments - with the aim of spurring a steady stream of federal funding.
"This is a tool to help bring money to the state," authority Deputy Executive Director Jeffrey Barker said.
He said the project cannot continue to rely on one-year appropriations such as the $2.25 billion awarded to the state in January as part of $8 billion in federal stimulus money for developing a nationwide network of high-speed rail.
"What we really need is an ongoing funding stream, and we need to work with federal officials to establish this," Baker said, noting that the authority and the state need to signal to the private sector that the project has stable funding and can proceed with planning.
"We need to see that level of serious commitment on the federal level to attract private investors," he said.
Applications for the next round of federal stimulus dollars, which will split $2.3 billion between the states, are due on Friday, Aug. 6.