Latest HNTB America THINKS survey has Americans weighing in on their willingness to pay for roads and what they expect for their price of admission
When given a choice, nearly half (46 percent) of Americans prefer new roads funded by new tolls over new roads funded by increased gas taxes (25 percent) or no new roads (28 percent).
A recent America THINKS survey from HNTB Corporation shows that millions of Americans are aware there is a congestion problem, and many are willing to back tolls that enhance, repair or construct roads. With these fees, however, come higher expectations for the facilities, including better driving conditions and cleanliness.
“As our nation’s population continues to grow, so will its traffic troubles if we don’t address the long-term decline of the gas tax,” said Jim Ely, HNTB vice chair toll services. The confluence of shrinking traditional transportation funding, increasing congestion and advancements in tolling technology is opening up vast opportunities for market-driven and choice-based user financed transportation.”
In fact, more than 3 in 5 (63 percent) of Americans feel the nation can no longer build its way out of traffic congestion. And more than 7 in 10 (71 percent) drivers would be willing to pay a higher toll fare on a road or highway in order to save travel time.
And, when presented with a choice between tolls and other forms of transportation funding, such as higher gas taxes, property and sales taxes over the next 10 years, more than 4 in 10 (43 percent) Americans would be most willing to back more tolls rather than these other forms of additional funding to maintain existing roads, bridges and tunnels in their area, as well as build new ones.
Tolls increase expectations
Among the nation’s drivers, more than 8 in 10 (86 percent) are willing to pay tolls. With that price of admission comes an expectation of better driving conditions. In fact, more than 9 in 10 Americans (93 percent) expect tolled roads to be better than non-tolled roads.
Drivers willing to pay tolls most often cited faster travel times (59 percent), lanes with less traffic (52 percent) and higher-quality roads (52 percent) as reasons to make the choice.
“Historically tolls have played an important role in the development of the nation’s interstate commerce, along with its highways,” said Ely. “Modern technology now allows us to do away with traditional tollbooths, allowing transactions at highway speeds while opening up vast opportunities for pricing strategies that help reduce congestion.”
In fact, the surveyed showed almost 3 in 4 (73 percent) drivers would rather have a transponder – a device in their car that allows them to pay tolls at highway speed without stopping – rather than the traditional method of halting at tollbooths to pay.
Ely said some toll facilities, including the Golden Gate Bridge in California just last month, are doing away with tollbooths completely and moving to all-electronic tolling. According to the survey, a majority of Americans see all-electronic tolling as providing time savings (62 percent), convenience (60 percent) and safety (56 percent).
Practicing the “user pays” principle
“These findings are consistent with previous HNTB research,” Ely said. “It’s a confirmation of what many in the transportation industry have known for years: a clear user pays principle matters to the American public.”
Tolls are favored as a funding method over higher gas taxes or simply eliminating funding for major bridges (61 percent), vehicle travel across international borders (59 percent), tunnels (58 percent), vehicle travels across state borders (52 percent), interstate highways (50 percent) and state highways (46 percent).
The federal gas tax, now set at 18.4 cents per gallon, was last increased in 1993. During the last two decades a combination of inflation, changing driving habits and better fuel economy in modern automobiles has robbed the tax of much of its purchasing power.
“If we’re not willing to raise the gas tax to simply account for inflation, not to mention address the growing number of aging facilities that need to be maintained, repaired and replaced, alternatives must not only be considered, but adopted much more frequently,” Ely said. “These findings are an encouraging sign as we seek opportunities to increase flexibility, funding and fairness related to tolling at the federal and state levels.”
Seven in 10 Americans (70 percent) believe their state department of transportation should have the option to add tolls to major structures to keep them in good shape. In addition, 8 in 10 Americans (80 percent) agree their state department of transportation should have the option to enter into agreements with private companies and investors to provide additional long-term funding to build, expand, operate and maintain needed roads, bridges and tunnels. Ely said there will need to be enabling legislation created in many states as well as additional changes at the federal level for tolling and public-private partnerships to grow to the extent needed.
About the survey
HNTB’s America THINKS national tolling survey polled a random nationwide sample of 1,000 Americans Jan. 24-30, 2013. It was conducted by Kelton Research, which used an e-mail invitation and online survey. Quotas were set to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total U.S. population ages 18 and over. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 percent.
HNTB Corporation is an employee-owned infrastructure solutions firm serving public and private owners and construction contractors. With nearly a century of service, HNTB understands the life cycle of infrastructure and addresses clients’ most complex technical, financial and operational challenges. Professionals nationwide deliver a full range of infrastructure-related services, including award-winning planning, design, program delivery and construction management. For more information, visit www.hntb.com.
Click here for a related fact sheet.
EDITOR'S NOTE: For more information on pricing strategies that help reduce congestion, see HNTB's recent survey on priced managed lanes as well as video from a related Newsmakers panel discussion at the National Press Club.