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Infrastructure spending: most want it – they just don’t want to pay for it

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — There appears to be a surprising amount of support among the American public for spending more on infrastructure, according to a new poll commissioned by the American Trucking Associations.

Or is there?

The poll, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies and released at the ATA’s Management Conference and Exhibition, asked 800 respondents across the US whether the US should spend more or spend less on several priorities, including K-12 public schools; transportation infrastructure; anti-terrorism and national defense; health care; environmental protection; food and drug inspection; and government assistance to the unemployed.

While K-12 public schools came out on top with 61% supporting spending more on them and only 14% wanting to spend less, spending on infrastructure came out second with 48% supporting an increase in spending and only 10% wanting to spend less.
Seventy one percent of respondents felt the nation’s roadways were only in fair to poor condition. That’s an important distinction to make among survey respondents because those who felt the nation’s infrastructure was in poor condition were the most likely (74%) to favor spending more on it. The assessment of the nation’s infrastructure being in only fair/poor condition cut across regions ranging from a high of 77% in the northeast being negative about their roads condition to 68% in the Midwest. Almost half of Americans (49%) believe traffic congestion impacts the quality of their life.

So it would seem the American Trucking Association’s long-term plea to improve the nation’s infrastructure is in line with the American public. Well, not exactly.

When survey respondents were told that “it is estimated that in order to repair, update and modernize the nation’s roads, highways and bridges, it would cost $4 trillion over the next 25 years” and then given several different ways that this money could be raised, their enthusiasm for infrastructure improvements quickly subsided.

They were given the following four infrastructure funding proposals and asked whether they favored or opposed each one:
– Raising federal income taxes by 1%, earmarking the additional funds for the Highway Trust Fund;
– Raising federal taxes on gas and diesel five cents a year, every other year for the next eight years;
– Doubling the state fee to register vehicles;
– Placing a toll on all interstate highways in the country.

Not one of the funding proposals received better than 36% approval rating, leading Neil Newhouse, a partner in the firm which conducted the poll to conclude: “Americans say there is a need to spend more money (on infrastructure) but they don’t want it coming out of their pockets…It would take a heck of a lobbying job to get any of these proposals passed.”
ATA president and CEO had similar comments in his state of the industry address, which followed the presentation of the poll results.

“Everybody knows what we need to do, everybody knows how important it is to this country, but everyone wants someone else to pay for it,” Graves said. “Infrastructure is not free and it’s not cheap and it’s not going to be repaired, be built and be expanded by osmosis. That’s why it’s so critical that our national leaders start leading on the issue and stop politically pandering and posturing – posturing that is having the very negative and unintended consequence of fooling Americans into believing that there really are “pennies from heaven.”

Specifically, Graves, a former two term Republican governor of Kansas, called out conservatives in Congress supportive of cutting back the federal highway program and pushing the responsibility to the states.

“The most damaging element of that type of approach is those members of Congress who have been susggesting that ‘devolving’ the program to the states is the answer. Devolution is simply code for ‘passing the buck’ or in this case ‘passing the responsibility for raising a buck’ to someone else,” he said.

Lou Smyrlis

Lou Smyrlis

With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics.
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