Many Americans are not sure how much money we personally pay every month to maintain and improve the roads, bridges and public transit we use. But 75% to 80% of us say having safe, efficient and well-maintained transportation infrastructure is at least, if not more, important to our personal livelihood and well-being than good cable, cell phone, internet, water, sewage and household electricity and natural gas services.
Those are key findings of a first-ever national poll conducted to see how valuable Americans think our road and transit network is to the nation, our everyday life, and relative to other modern necessities we routinely rely upon. The poll found we place a high value on good roads and public transit because:
- 8-in-10 of us (78%) say driving a motor vehicle is “very” or “extremely” important to our ability to conduct our daily lives. Twenty-one percent (including 34% of low income respondents) say the same about using public transportation;
- Nearly 9-in-10 (88%) say transportation infrastructure is important to maintaining a strong U.S. economy;
- 83% say our transportation network is important in ensuring national defense and emergency response capabilities;
- And no matter where we live — whether rural or urban — 71% of us agree that growing traffic congestion in U.S. metropolitan areas is making products we buy everywhere more expensive because congestion increases transportation costs for businesses.
Not surprisingly, given the importance we place on transportation assets, 74% of us agree that “investing in transportation infrastructure should be a core function of the federal government.”
But here’s the disconnect that explains why many of us are suffering from traffic congestion and the outcomes from less than optimal system upkeep.
The poll revealed that many of us probably have no idea how much we are paying each month in the state and federal gas taxes that are the primary source of funding for road and transit capital investments.
Asked the question how much their household pays each month in gas taxes, 40% of respondents say they “don’t know.” In fact, according to Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) data, the average U.S. household paid $46 per month in gas taxes in 2011—the most current year available.
One-quarter of respondents (24%) estimated they pay more than double that amount, which in some cases is likely an overstatement, as this would involve buying enough gas to fuel a household’s cars for nearly 5,400 miles per month, while federal data show the average household with one or more cars drives just over 2,100 miles per month.
U.S. Commerce Department 2011 data show the average household spends about three-and-a-half times more each month for household electricity and natural gas service ($160) than we pay in state and federal gas taxes. We also pay three-and-a-half time as much monthly, on average, for landline and cell phone service ($161) and nearly two-and-a-half time as much for cable and satellite television, radio and internet access ($124). We pay almost 19% a month more, on average, just for internet access.
“Traffic congestion is getting worse every year in most metropolitan areas, wasting our time and money. We still have 65,000 structurally deficient bridges that are being crossed 249 million times every day. Road crashes remain an extremely serious public health problem and cost driver. The reason for that, sadly, is that we are getting what we are paying for,” says Pete Ruane, president of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, which commissioned the research.