Public supports system preservation, why not politicians?

By Eric Sundquist
More evidence that the public strongly supports system preservation comes from a survey performed for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
When asked to rank the importance of a variety of potential priorities for WisDOT, preservation came out on top by a wide margin with 47.3 percent of respondents citing it as “extremely important.”

Table 1. Survey of 1,860 Wisconsin residents by ETC for WisDOT.
Issue Percent saying “extremely important”
Repair/maintain existing highways 47.3
Expand services for seniors/disabled 20.6
Add turn/pass lanes 19.5
Improve freight movement 19.5
Reduce congestion through operations 19.2
Improve passenger rail 18.8
Expand transit 17.4
Add highway lanes for capacity 16.6
Add bike facilities 14.7
Improve intercity bus service 14.6
Add pedestrian facilities 14.3
Improve freight rail 11.1
Improve airports 7.8

A year earlier, the same survey firm working for Washington DOT found a similar result in that state. Former WSDOT Secretary Douglas MacDonald, in an April 3 article, cites that survey and contrasts it with the priorities emerging in the current state legislative session.

So far, the discussion this session in Olympia has shown much too little attention to the maintenance and preservation crisis. The first roll-out of the proposed House Transportation Committee plan for $10 billion in new spending would include just $633 million in additional monies over a decade for state highway system maintenance, operations and preservation. That’s a paltry fraction of the need – and an irresponsibly small portion of a 10-year proposed spending package of $10 billion.
Meanwhile, funding hugely expensive new road projects dropped here and there around the state, would add even more to the road systems we already can’t keep in good repair.

MacDonald says a proposed gas tax increase, which requires voter approval, should be contingent on legislation that follows public sentiments and prioritizes preservation.

Surely these sentiments should be reflected in a transportation proposal from Olympia this session. Republican Ray LaHood, ex-Illinois Congressman and outgoing Secretary of the federal Department of Transportation, put it colorfully when he said that Americans would support a rational fix-it-first policy “because they know that America is one big pothole right now.”
If legislators can design and adopt a transportation package that addresses the issue this simply, starkly, and compellingly, then and only then should they ask voters to endorse it.

Eric Sundquist is Managing Director of SSTI.