Understanding Preferences for Transportation Infrastructure Investment: A Case Study of California’s High-Speed Rail Project

Research Team: Cecile Gaubert (lead), Pablo Fajgelbaum, Edouard Schaal, and Eduardo Morales

UC Campus(es): UC Berkeley, UCLA

Problem Statement: Transportation infrastructure projects–including the California High-Speed Rail project–often spark public debates that stem from a mix of economic and ideological factors. On the economic side, transportation investments tend to benefit some regions or groups while neglecting or negatively impacting others. Ideologically and politically, public views and policymaker decisions are shaped by preferences for collective goods, environmental concerns, and/or political affiliations.

Project Description: This project will use the California High Speed Rail (CHSR) project as a case study for analyzing the relative importance of economic versus political/ideological factors in shaping preferences for large transportation projects among voters and policymakers. The researchers will develop a framework for assessing the expected economic outcomes of such projects and use it to gauge public support for different project designs, quantify the economic costs of influencing that support, and understand the distributional impacts of transportation projects across regions. The project has four steps: 1) Create an economic model to assess CHSR benefits across census tracts, considering factors like time and cost savings and their impact on income, land prices, productivity, and jobs; 2) analyze voting data from 2008's Proposition 1A and the model predictions from #1 to understand how votes respond to income gains and political ideology; 3) evaluate the significance of economic versus ideological factors in influencing voter preferences and predict the impact of alternative CHSR designs; and 4) use the CHSR route and political support data to identify station placements influenced by regional factors, voter support, and income maximization.

Status: In Progress

Budget: $105,337