According to the latest America THINKS survey from HNTB Corporation, 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. "We can no longer ignore the growing liability our aging roads present to U.S. economic competitiveness and the mobility of our citizens," says Pete Rahn, leader of HNTB's national transportation practice. "Americans are feeling the pain every day as they commute and cross the nation's highways and bridges."
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." 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. 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.
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," says Rahn. "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."
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 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 says.
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.
More than seven in ten (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," says Rahn. "It's time for our elected officials to do the same so our critical interstate highway system remains a valuable, viable asset."
HNTB Corporation is an employee-owned infrastructure firm serving federal, state, municipal, military and private clients. Professionals nationwide provide planning, design, program management, and construction management services. For more information, visit www.hntb.com.
Additional Survey Results:
- More Americans in the Northeast, Midwest and West than in the South think highways are in poor condition (60 percent versus 45 percent). And slightly more than half (53 percent) of Northeasterners, Southerners and Westerners think highways are too congested, compared to 37 percent of those in the Midwest.
- More than half (53 percent) of those in the Northeast and West have an issue with overcrowding on highways in urban areas, versus 42 percent of those in Midwest and South.
- More women than men (47 percent versus 29 percent) have an issue with sharing highway lanes with big trucks, while men are more likely than women (29 percent versus 22 percent) to have a problem with the lack of lanes on highways.
- More men than women (59 percent versus 50 percent) would rather tax and toll money went to interstate highway improvements that would last a long time.
- Those in the Northeast and West are more likely than those in the Midwest and South (50 percent versus 36 percent) to most support tolls for improving interstate highways that are crucial to commerce and congestion relief.
- More women than men (78 percent versus 64 percent) think these decisions should be made at the local or state level.
- Slightly more than one-third (34 percent) of Northeasterners think the federal government should handle these decisions, versus 25 percent of those in other regions.
- Americans living in the South and West regions are more likely than those in the Northeast and Midwest (45 percent versus 36 percent) to believe the State Departments of Transportation should approve additional tolls.
- Americans ages 45+ are more likely than those 18-44 (89 percent versus 74 percent) to think tolls for each 10 miles of interstate should not be more than one dollar.
- Eighty-four percent of those in the Midwest, South and West regions don't think tolls for each 10 miles on an interstate should be more than a dollar, compared to 75 percent of those in the Northeast.