New Regional Poll: Transportation is #1 Issue, Public Supports New Roads AND Transit

April 18, 2016 | Author:John Fineran

A recent poll released today at a briefing of area leaders shows transportation is by far the top long-term concern for residents of the Greater Washington Region. Overwhelming majorities also favor significant new investments in both the area’s highway and mass transit networks. Large majorities in this regional poll of 800 residents in Maryland, DC and Virginia support:

  • Investing in the core capacity of the existing Metro system (though not necessarily its further expansion);
  • plus major new multi-modal investments to widen and redesign several highway corridors, including I-270, the Capital Beltway,  portions of I-66, and the American Legion Bridge, adding new express-toll lanes and regional bus-rapid-transit service on each;
  • as well as Virginia’s Bi-County Parkway, a new Potomac River bridge crossing north of the American Legion Bridge, and two new transit lines in Maryland, the Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT).

Public support for all of these projects was exceptionally strong, ranging from 4-to-1 to 12-to-1 margins, in all cases. The survey was conducted by OpinionWorks and commissioned by the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance (SMTA) and the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance (NVTA).  A summary of findings is provided in our April 18th press release.

“Washington-area residents are clearly fed up with traffic and want to see more investment in both transit and roads,” said SMTA Chair Jennifer Russel. “We need to stop looking at this as a ‘roads vs. transit’ issue; people want to see a lot more investment in both.”

In addition to the findings on several major transit and road projects that have been recommended by area experts, the poll also found:

  • Area residents see transportation as the greatest long-term issue or challenge facing the region, by a 3-to-1 margin over the next highest answer (jobs/economy) to an open-ended question
  • Residents give the region’s transportation an average grade of “C”, but by a margin of nearly 2-to-1 feel it is getting worse instead of better
  • Residents identify “reducing traffic congestion and delays” as the most important transportation priority for the region by a margin of nearly 2-to-1 over the next highest answer (maintenance)
  • 84% of area residents favor investing in both roads and transit, rather than one or the other
  • 80% of commuters drive or carpool to work; 18% use transit; 4% walk or bike (NOTE: commuting accounts for 20% of all daily trips)
  • 86% of non-commuting trips are by car; 5% use transit; 8% walk or bike (NOTE: non-commuting trips account for 80% of all daily trips)

Among the major projects tested:

  • 67% favor the Purple Line in Maryland (44% strongly support), only 10% are opposed (5% strongly)
  • 59% favor the CCT in Maryland (34% strongly), only 9% are opposed (7% strongly)
  • 70% favor widening I-66 outside the Beltway in Virginia (34% strongly), 12% are opposed (6% strongly)
  • 70% favor widening/redesigning I-270 as a multi-modal corridor in Maryland (47% strongly), only 10% are opposed (5% strongly)
  • 54% favor the Bi-County Parkway in Virginia (25% strongly); 13% are opposed (6% strongly)
  • 71% favor widening/redesigning the Maryland Beltway to add express-toll lanes and regional express-bus service (47% strongly), 11% are opposed (7% strongly)
  • 59% favor adding new express-toll lanes and regional express-bus service to the American Legion Bridge (36% strongly), 13% are opposed (7% strongly)
  • 59% favor building a new bridge crossing north of the American Legion Bridge (39% strongly), 11% are opposed (7% strongly)
  • 75% favor investing in new Metro cars to provide 8-car trains (51% strongly), only 6% are opposed (3% strongly)

Other key findings:

  • By a large majority (67% to 27%), area residents feel Metro should focus more on maintenance and system reliability, as opposed to further expansion of the system.
  • 60% of residents say they would be willing to pay a little more to fund projects that reduce congestion, with 36% opposed; although there is no consensus on a specific funding proposal (none of those tested reached majority support)

The results were unveiled at a briefing today at Marriott International, Inc., before an audience of business and community leaders, including U.S. Congressman John Delaney, Montgomery County Council President Nancy Floreen, Maryland Deputy Secretary of Transportation James Ports, and many others.  Here is the slideshow by OpinionWorks that was presented at the event.

NVTA President David Birtwistle noted the importance of these new findings: “There’s a real consensus among experts that these are the kinds of investments we need to make to significantly reduce congestion; and now we know the public is on the same page.”  “It’s time to get moving,” he concluded.

A similar list of projects has been tested using the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s (COG) regional traffic model, and significant improvements in congestion relief, travel time savings, economic growth and transit ridership were found. With a new willingness in Maryland and Virginia to consider toll-financing and public-private-partnerships, several viable options now exist to fund major new transportation projects of this magnitude without relying on more limited traditional sources.

Richard Parsons, SMTA Vice Chair, pointed out ongoing effort at COG’s Transportation Planning Board to study other unfunded projects not in the region’s Constrained Long-Range Plan: “Regional leaders are now in the process of looking at our current long-range plans, which everyone knows are not sustainable, and it would be a good idea to include these game-changing projects in that study.” “There are solutions to our traffic problems, and the public clearly and overwhelmingly supports them,” he concluded.

A total of 800 randomly-selected adult residents of the greater Washington region were interviewed by telephone December 1-5, 2015 by OpinionWorks LLC, a highly-respected independent research organization based in Annapolis that has done significant public opinion work in the DC region on environmental, transportation and other issues. The results of this survey have a potential sampling error of no greater than +/-3.5% at the 95% confidence level.