Poll Shows How People Think We Should Pay for Roads, Rail and Other Infrastructure

More than half of Americans think their area’s transportation system is only fair or poor. Nearly half think congestion has gotten worse over the past five years, and 54% think it will get worse in the coming five years. But 77% oppose increasing the federal gas tax, apparently not trusting Congress to spend the proceeds on improving their travels – 65% say federal transportation money is spent ineffectively. Instead, Americans favor using tolls for new capacity, and 59% say they would use new toll roads or toll lanes if it meant significant time savings.

These are some of the highlights of the latest Reason-Rupe public opinion survey (.pdf) of 1,200 adults via landlines and cell phones.

Public disaffection with federal transportation efforts goes beyond opposition to gas tax increases. Although the federal government has thus far spent $8 billion to fund high-speed rail, only 34% think government should do this, while 55% think high-speed rail should be limited to routes where passengers would pay fares large enough to pay for the service. In addition, while Congress devotes 20% of Highway Trust Fund spending to mass transit, 48% of Americans think that transit should receive no more of transportation funding than its share in travel (which in most places would be less than 5%). And by a margin of 62% to 30% Americans favor robust highway funding, given that most people travel mostly by car, as opposed to the idea that transportation funding should focus on getting people out of their cars by disproportionately funding transit and other non-driving alternatives.

As for alternatives to an expanded federal role, there is considerable support for tolling and public-private partnerships. Some 58% would rather see new highway capacity paid for by tolls than by increased gas taxes (28%). And 57% support converting existing HOV lanes into HOT lanes. A comparable 55% support using public-private partnerships to build critical infrastructure.

These views are considerably at odds with what many transportation planners and media pundits think about transportation policy and hopefully will prompt some serious debate about how to improve the nation’s infrastructure by embracing and restoring the users-pay principle to highways and infrastructure.

For more, go to Reason’s transportation research and commentary.