New Poll: Public Supports Congestion Tolling Over Gas Tax Hike by 2 to 1

InfoGraphics3.jpgGraphic: HNTB

The puzzle of how to pay for new federal investments in transportation is the single greatest stumbling block facing members of Congress — should a gas tax increase be combined with a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax? How about a national infrastructure bank that leverages private capital?

A poll released today by the engineering firm HNTB suggests that higher gas taxes could continue to face political headwinds from both sides of the aisle, even after the recession begins to ease.

A 10-cent gas tax increase that would be imposed only after two straight quarters of economic growth faced opposition from 64 percent of respondents, and just 16 percent said gas taxes should be raised to pay for "roads and bridges."

But the poll found strikingly strong support for tolling, particularly congestion tolling through HOT (high-occupancy toll) lanes. One-third of respondents said HOT lanes should be used for future transportation revenue, with 35 percent supporting the use of public tolling and 20 percent backing private tolls.

As with any poll, wording is everything; the above graphic depicts another poll question that referenced high-speed rail in addition to road investments. When the phrasing was changed, support for gas taxes climbed by 8 percent.

And when respondents were asked about "adding" HOT lanes with higher tolls "during rush hour," 68 percent were willing to support the move. As my colleague Ryan Avent has pointed out, however, new HOT lanes can be added without building more highway capacity by simply converting existing lanes.

If lawmakers are looking for data to jumpstart a discussion of broader toll use — particularly on the interstates, which would deliver a blow to the road lobby — today’s poll might be a good place to start.

(The source of polls can often be as noteworthy as their phrasing. Given that, one quick note on HNTB: The firm is currently embroiled in a debate over streetcars versus light rail in Kansas City, according to local media reports.)

  • Elana it’s HNTB.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I think its fare to assume that the majority of those polled were not public transit riders. And a majority of those polled either weren’t willing to pay anything, or wanted to stick the entire bill on public transportation riders in the form of higher fares. That’s 63% between the two categories.

    Bad as our elected sometimes are, this is just more reason to prefer that these decisions be localized. Local costs, local benefits, local consequences.

  • As my colleague Ryan Avent has pointed out, however, new HOT lanes can be added without building more highway capacity by simply converting existing lanes.

    That may be what he meant, but I read it as saying that campaigning for tolling is more important than fighting new lane construction. Ryan, you might want to make it clearer, that you can introduce tolling without expanding capacity.

  • Art10

    Use half the gas tax to fund medicare and medicaid-there are more seniors in NY State than any state except California and Florida-then half could support green transportation and mass transit.

  • the KC Tribune is an awful citation riddled with factual errors. there are a few critics over the $6 million request for design and engineering costs that will be part of KC’s TIGER request, but it’s part of a multi-modal proposal that’s much heavier on bike/ped and BRT.

    the original request was for the entire capital cost before an operational funding source was confirmed, so the city back-pedaled to err on the side of caution.

    everyone knows that design and engineering steps are required for New Stars. few cities or transit agencies have the expertise or staff on the payroll to handle the extra work. there is also no indication the full TIGER request will be funded. no one will know that until january.

  • Barry

    This story is just another way our country is in denial about paying for governemnt, people expect the roads and bridges to be there, but either want them to be maintained for free, or want someone else to pay. Gas taxes haven’t been raised at the federal level, or in many states (e.g. MA, NJ) for 16 years or more, and so have lost much purchasing power that transportastion funding is at risk. The feds are borrowing money rather than riase any taxes now, and to some extent, so are the states (for example GARVEE bonds) but the bills will come due. Tolls are not the answer politically either, as soon as a specific toll is suggested, those affected go to work to block it (as is going on now in RI, MA)

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