NPI’s poll shows Washingtoners want the state’s next transportation package to be safety and climate-driven, not auto-centered :: NPIs Cascadia Advocate

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Today the Washington State Legislature convenes its 2022 session, expected to last sixty days and constitutionally adjourned by March 10, 2021 at the latest. Newspaper publishers and stakeholders is adopting a new transportation package to meet the state’s mobility needs.

To quote from some of the most recent statements we’ve seen:

  • “The legislature hesitated far too long before adopting a sensible package to improve the infrastructure. After talks failed in early 2021 and remained at an impasse all year, lawmakers must redouble their efforts to make long-term investments in the state’s bridges, roads, and transit. ”- The Seattle Times Editor (January 9, 2022)
  • “Washington state lawmakers are long overdue to pass a transportation package – but we don’t need any kind of investment. We need a transformative approach to transportation that meets our needs for health, safety and affordability and takes into account climatic, social and economic justice. ”- A manifesto from the transport coalition is needed
  • “The majority of Washington’s current sources of income are regressive and limited to spending on highways. The transport package must rely on progressive, climate-friendly sources of income that do not burden low-income and marginalized communities disproportionately. ”- Excerpt from a decision of the board of directors of Democrats in King County at its meeting in November 2021

Back in November, in anticipation of the upcoming meeting, our polling company asked a large sample of likely 2022 Washington state voters what they wanted to see in a new transportation package. All of the recent packages have been highway heavy, with the lion’s share of the dollars invested in car infrastructure while transit has become crumbs. Legislature gave Sound Transit new revenue opportunities in 2015 when it passed Connecting Washington to fund transit at the regional level, but it did not invest significantly in transit with state dollars.

Seven years later, a lot has changed. We’re in the midst of a terrible pandemic, Republicans no longer control the Senate, and the impact of climate change has gotten much worse. Interest in handing over another transport package is growing. But what kind of package should it be? And what do Washingtoners want their elected representatives to prioritize at this critical moment?

We decided to ask.

We have the choice between a safety and climate-oriented package that supports existing roads and bridges and invests in fish passages and transit, or a package that focuses on expanding car capacity, be it in the form of new highways or new lanes , or new ramps. The latter, as mentioned, would be in line with tradition, while the former would represent a new direction.

In our question, we did not argue that one approach is superior to the other, nor did we discuss what lawmakers have done in the past. Our goal was to just find out where people are and what they are looking for from their legislators.

With a lead of three to one, voters said they wanted a safety and climate-oriented package as opposed to a car-centric package.

  • 60% of respondents said they want a transportation package that prioritizes repairing unsafe bridges, improving fish passage, renewing deteriorating roads and making large investments in local public transport.
  • Only 19% of respondents said they would like to prioritize increasing the capacity for cars by building new highways, widening existing highways with new lanes, and adding or lengthening driveways.
  • 21% weren’t sure.

Visualization of our survey results on the direction that voters would like the legislature to take with a transport package for 2022

Our poll of 909 Washington state voters, likely 2022, was in the field from Wednesday November 10 through Thursday November 11, 2021.

It uses a mixed methodology with automated telephone calls to landlines (50%) and SMS replies from only mobile phone respondents (50%).

The survey was conducted by Public Policy Polling for the Northwest Progressive Institute and has an error rate of +/- 3.3% with a 95% confidence interval.

Further information on the methodology of the survey can be found here.

Here is the full text of the question we asked, and the answers again:

ASK: If Washington state lawmakers approve a new transportation funding package in the 2022 legislature, you think your priority should or should be to repair unsafe bridges, improve fish passages, renovate deteriorating roads, and make large investments in public transportation Prioritize expansion of capacities? Cars by building new highways, adding new lanes to existing highways, and adding or lengthening driveways?

ANSWER:

  • Think the legislature should prioritize repairing unsafe bridges, improving fish passage, renewing roads in deterioration and large investments in local public transport to fund a transport financing package in 2022: 60%
  • Think lawmakers should prioritize increasing capacity for cars by building new highways, adding new lanes to existing highways, and adding or lengthening driveways: 19%
  • Not sure: 21%

You will notice that we used the adjective “large” before “transit investments” in the question. That’s because we wanted to see if voters wanted a truly multimodal approach, where transit receives a significant percentage of the dollars in a federal transportation package, rather than a small fraction. The word “big” is meant to mean that it is a package that puts transit center stage in a way that has never been seen before.

We consider improving fish passages, repairing unsafe bridges and renewing the road surface as essential for a successful transport package, which is why they are all summarized in one of the options. Safety and sustainability go hand in hand and should not be played off against each other.

Adding capacity for cars, on the other hand, does not fit these other goals. It costs a lot of money without reducing traffic jams or pollution.

However, this is the path we’ve taken with previous packages.

If we continue to prioritize the construction of new highways, lanes and ramps, then there will simply be no resources for seismic upgrades of bridges, removal of fish barriers, road maintenance or more, better and higher frequency transit services.

Infinite dollars are just not available.

Senator Marko Liias, the new chairman of the Senate’s Transport Committee, explained last week that he will not support the increase in the gas tax as part of a transport package in 2022. Previous packages have relied heavily on gas tax increases to generate the revenue needed to pay for the projects that lawmakers have appropriated.

But it seems that this is not the case.

One benefit of Senator Liias’ position is that the constitution restricts the use of gas tax revenues to “highway purposes”.

By funding the 2022 package with other revenue options, lawmakers will have more freedom to allocate dollars for transit and fish passage improvement.

It remains to be seen whether the legislature can agree on a package before March 10th. It will not be easy. However, lawmakers should make serious efforts to reach an agreement and not before 2023.

We have underfunded ferries, transit, sidewalks, bike paths and multimodal transport infrastructure for far too long. In the meantime, we’ve postponed basic maintenance and seismic upgrades on our existing roads and bridges.

It is time to listen to the voters and approve the mobility investments that will help Washingtoners get where they need to go safely and sustainably.

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