Improving the U.S. transportation network: There's the will, but is there a way? - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Improving the U.S. transportation network: There's the will, but is there a way?

A recent poll of 800 registered voters, commissioned by Transportation for America, illustrates that Americans want expanded transportation options and more walkable, bikeable communities. Yet the numbers also show that advocates have more work to do to secure funding for these improvements.

Here’s the good stuff:

  1. 82 percent of those surveyed responded that “the United States would benefit from an expanded and improved transportation system, such as rail and buses,” a majority view in every type of community: urban, suburban, small town and rural.
  2. 69 percent think their community would benefit from increased funding for transit, while just 30 precent disagree.
  3. Respondents also indicated that they felt the key to reducing congestion is not only improving public transportation, but also making it easier to walk and bike – rather than building more or expanding existing roads.
  4. Although a majority of respondents indicated that they would rather spend less time in their car, almost three-quarters suggested that they feel they “have no choice but to drive as much as” they do, as they are fixed in a public transportation catch-22.
  5. When it came to paying for these improvements, respondents estimated that to achieve these goals, public spending for public transportation should be doubled from current level.

When questions shifted to funding, however, 51 percent of those polled support or somewhat support a small increase in taxes or fees to raise funding to expand and improve public transportation; 3 percent are unsure, and 46 percent oppose or somewhat oppose raising taxes. On the “spend smarter not more” front, 58 percent support putting more of the current funding toward public transportation, while 35 percent think the current balance is fair, and 5 percent think less should go to transit.

This paradox is playing out across the nation: Public transportation is seeing increasing levels of ridership, even as state and local governments are struggling to find funding for transit improvements and expansions to accommodate these growing numbers of riders.

The Obama administration will unveil its principles for the next federal surface transportation bill within the next two months. It is unknown whether these principles will contain recommendations for a revenue source to pay for the $500 billion multi-year program MPC and nationwide advocates including T4America support. A gasoline tax and a mileage tax increase have both been bandied about as possible sources of additional revenue; however, with limited public support, it would seem that both options fall flat. Indeed, as our nation’s transportation program becomes more multi-modal, as reflected in the preferences by the T4America respondents, it would seem that the idea of using the gas tax as a user fee for road construction is increasingly outdated.

What is certain is that meeting the growing demand for public transit, and walkable, bikeable communities will require both an unprecedented investment in our transportation program and smarter spending to achieve our overall goals.

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