KANSAS CITY, Mo. (March 31, 2011) -- There are plenty of potholes ahead for America's transportation network, yet even as the price of gas rises, so has the public's understanding of the challenges of planning, prioritizing and funding the nation's infrastructure.
In fact, more than three-quarters (77 percent) of Americans agree with President Barack Obama that the federal government should increase spending to repair our crumbling roads, bridges and transit systems.
In its latest America THINKS survey, HNTB Corporation finds many people in America acknowledging that much of the nation’s infrastructure has surpassed its intended life span, is in need of repair and that the current gas tax isn't enough to foot such hefty bills. In fact, most Americans are willing to support large-scale infrastructure projects through increased tolls or taxes as long as they can directly reap or be assured of the benefits.
"Our country always has made great strides in improving economic opportunities and the nation’s quality of life when investing in its transportation network," said Paul Yarossi, president HNTB Holdings Ltd. "This can’t be a partisan issue."
Aging transportation system makes for a rough ride
Two-thirds (66 percent) of Americans think most U.S. infrastructure is past its intended lifespan, and more than 4 in 5 (81 percent) would give our country’s infrastructure a C grade or lower.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, a third of the nation’s major highways are in poor shape while more than 152,000 bridges -- 1 in 4 -- are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The nation's largest public transit agencies face an $80 billion maintenance backlog just to bring their rail systems to a state of good repair.
More than half (57 percent) of Americans think that federal and state gas taxes are no longer enough to pay for the maintenance of our roads and bridges. This number has increased slightly since February 2009, when 51 percent felt this way.
To invest is best
"A healthy transportation system is essential to a healthy American economy," Yarossi said. Yet according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, between 1980 and 2006 traffic on our interstate highway system grew by 150 percent while interstate capacity grew by only 15 percent. USDOT estimates the annual cost of simply maintaining the highway system's current capabilities is 12 percent more than the government is spending. For mass transit, the gap is 25 percent.
There's an added bonus here in the eyes of many Americans. Nearly 3 in 5 (58 percent) think investing in significant infrastructure projects is a better way out of the current recession than cutting expensive public works projects to pay down deficits.
What’s more, many people across the country don't mind spending more of their own money on enhancements beyond the immediate future. Almost 3 in 4 (74 percent) Americans would be willing to spend more on various transportation expenses or taxes if the money was put towards long-term transportation improvements.
Identifying funding sources
Close to half of Americans (47 percent) think the most pressing infrastructure issue is how to pay for improvements. Yarossi said there are no easy answers -- "our freeways aren’t free."
Among respondents willing to spend more, the most popular expenditure would be a flat-rate increase: tolls on roads and bridges (44 percent). Less popular options would more likely be associated with a percentage hike, such as the gas tax (28 percent), sales tax (24 percent), income tax (15 percent) or property tax (11 percent).