How do political preferences shape transportation policy? We study this question in the context of California’s High-Speed Rail (CHSR). Combining geographic data on votes in a referendum on the CHSR with a model of its expected economic benefits, we estimate the weight of economic and non-economic considerations in voters’ preferences. Then, comparing the proposed distribution of CHSR stations with alternative placements, we use a revealed-preference approach to estimate policymakers’ preferences for redistribution and popular approval. While voters did respond to expected real-income benefits, non-economic factors were a more important driver of the spatial distribution of voters’ preferences for the CHSR. While the voter-approved CHSR would have led to modest income gains, proposals with net income losses also would have been approved due to political preferences. For the planner, we identify strong preferences for popular approval. A politically-blind planner would have placed the stations closer to dense metro areas in California.
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