August 10, 2011
According to the latest America THINKS survey from HNTB Corp., people are fed up with congested, crumbling roads and are looking for decisions from local and regional officials about how to prioritize fixing them.
Many Americans are bothered by the condition of their highways, with slightly more than one in two (54 percent) having a problem with the poor road conditions and half (50 percent) saying these byways are too jammed, according to the HNTB Corp. survey.
“We can no longer ignore the growing liability our aging roads present to U.S. economic competitiveness and the mobility of our citizens,” said Pete Rahn, leader of HNTB’s national transportation practice, in a written statement about his company’s survey. “Americans are feeling the pain, every day, as they commute and cross the nation’s highways and bridges.”
Need for roads less taken
Congestion can be caused by several factors, such as a lack of alternative modes of transportation and continued population growth in today’s “mega regions,” according to the survey.
In fact, 46 percent of Americans think there is excessive traffic in urban areas. Aging, inefficient highway lanes — whether there aren’t enough of them or they are clogged with “slow moving” semi-trucks — also are seen as a cause of congestion. More than one-third (38 percent) of Americans are distressed by having to share lanes with large trucks and 25 percent think there aren’t enough lanes, the survey notes.
Perhaps fewer Americans would feel frustrated about the country’s highways if trucks had space of their own. One-quarter (25 percent) think creating dedicated lanes required for large trucks would make the biggest difference in reducing traffic or bettering efficiency of freight delivery.
Focusing on corridors for the future
In 2007, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced a groundbreaking plan to highlight the need to reconstruct and expand six critical interstates, which carry 22.7 percent of the nation’s daily interstate travel and are crucial to the efficient flow of freight traffic. These interstate highways — Interstates 5, 10, 15, 69, 70 and 95 — were designated “Corridors of the Future.”
According to the latest HNTB research, nearly 7 in 10 (69 percent) Americans would be likely to support funding long-term improvements of these particular interstate highways.
“Given the support these interstates generate among many Americans, focusing on them could be a key to providing voters a new vision for addressing America’s future mobility needs. They truly are corridors for the future,” said Rahn in a written statement. “However, investing in these unique routes will require a special combination of funding mechanisms, including lifting the current federal restriction on tolling these existing interstate corridors.”
Paying for pavement
Previous America THINKS research has shown many Americans prefer tolling over increased gas taxes. This latest HNTB survey shows many Americans (66 percent) also would like their toll money to go toward solving the wear-and-tear and congestion issues that cause so many to have problems with our highways. Forty-one percent of these people would be willing to chip in for repairing or rebuilding worn-out roads and bridges. Others would prefer their tolls went to developing dedicated truck lanes (30 percent) or adding lanes to existing roads (24 percent).
In fact, more than half (54 percent) of Americans would prefer taxes and highway toll money went to long-term interstate highway upgrades, such as creating truck-only lanes or high-occupancy lanes, rather than short-term highway maintenance projects.
According to Rahn, tolls likely will be an expanding source for future interstate highway funding. “A variety of different funding strategies, such as tolling, will be needed as inflation, aging infrastructure, increased construction costs, alternative fuels, and improved fuel-economy vehicles continue to eat away at the purchasing power of the federal gas tax,” he said.
While most Americans don’t have a problem with the tolls on highways, they do have a range of what they would like to pay. More than 4 in 5 (82 percent) Americans think the average toll rate for every 10 miles on an interstate highway should be a dollar or less. In addition, 56 percent think the average toll rate for every 10 miles should be 50 cents or less.
Who should make the decisions?
More than seven in 10 (72 percent) Americans feel that interstate highway funding decisions should be made at the local or state level, while far fewer (27 percent) think this should be a federal responsibility.
Transportation departments — including state departments of transportation (28 percent), local and regional transportation authorities (28 percent), and the U.S. Department of Transportation (24 percent) — top the list of who many Americans think should be the primary decision makers for addressing the needs of interstate highways. Far fewer think this responsibility should be left to local (8 percent), state (7 percent), and federal (3 percent) elected officials.
Similarly, nearly half (41 percent) of Americans think the state departments of transportation — not federal or other state entities — should handle approving the addition of tolls on specific highways, bridges, or tunnels.
“It’s clear Americans want to take the politics out of transportation prioritization and funding,” said Rahn. “It’s time for our elected officials to do the same so our critical interstate highway system remains a valuable, viable asset.”