Would Americans favor additional taxes and fees to support the nation's transportation infrastructure? A variety of questions on that topic were posed to a sample of people in a nationwide survey.

The results are being released in a Mineta Transportation Institute research report, What Do Americans Think about Federal Tax Options to Support Public Transit, Highways, and Local Streets and Roads? Results from Year Four of a National Survey.

"A number of the results may surprise legislators," said Dr. Asha Weinstein Agrawal, who conducted the study. "Some taxes received very little support, while others are far more acceptable. For example, a 10-cent gas tax increase to support undefined transportation needs received 23% support. But if it was spread over five years, it received 40% support."

She noted that increasing the gas tax rate had significantly more support if people received more information about how the revenue would be used as compared to an increase to be spent for undefined transportation purposes. For example, the researchers found much stronger support if the funds are to be used for highway maintenance or air pollution mitigation. This was true for every demographic that was surveyed.

In this, the fourth year of the survey project, responses have held steady as compared to previous years.

Among the key findings this year:

  • Of the 11 transportation tax options, six had majority support.
  • Linking tax increases to safety, maintenance, or environmental benefits substantially increased support among virtually all socio-demographic groups.
  • Support levels varied considerably by the type of tax. When taxes were described with no information other than the tax type, a new sales tax was much more popular than either a gas tax increase or a new mileage tax.
  • 80% said that better transit is an important priority for their state.
  • The majority did not support increasing gas taxes or transit fares to improve transit, but 64% supported spending current gas tax revenues on transit.
  • Less than half the respondents, 46 percent, knew of the federal government's role in funding public transit.

The research report showed support increases for additional fees and taxes when revenues are dedicated to specific purposes popular with the public, when the tax increase is spread out over several years, or when information is provided about how much the increase will cost drivers annually.

Congress is currently working a new multi-year transportation funding package with the current authorization expiring next year. Among the many issues lawmakers are debating are whether to increase spending for road and bridge work and by how much.

The Mineta Transportation Institure conducts research, education, and information transfer programs focusing on surface transportation policy and management issues. It was established by Congress in 1991.