PHOENIX - Large majorities of Americans support tolling and public-private partnerships for infrastructure development, although backing for managed lanes is still lukewarm, according to a new survey from construction engineering firm HNTB.

Kevin Heflich, HNTB toll services chairman and senior vice president.
Kevin Heflich, HNTB toll services chairman and senior vice president.

The survey, conducted by Russell Research, polled a random nationwide sample of 1,027 Americans, ages 18 and older, between July 14 and July 16. With a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1%, the survey asked respondents about a variety of infrastructure finance policy questions. The responses appeared to confirm the strong overall support of the American people for increased infrastructure spending, but also highlighted some ideological divides.

The survey shows that 70% of Americans are willing to pay more for the maintenance of existing roads, bridges and tunnels as well as to build new ones, while 30% said they were not willing to pay anything more. Of the 70% willing to pay, 25% of respondents who said they would pay more tolls and other user fees, compared to only 15% who said they would be willing to pay more through increased taxes. The largest group, 30%, said they would support paying more through a combination of tolls and taxes.

Overall support for paying more climbed to 84% if the revenues were guaranteed by law to exclusively fund transportation infrastructure needs.

“Americans value mobility and are willing to pay more to maintain and grow transportation infrastructure, especially if they know how their money will be used,” said Kevin Hoeflich, HNTB toll services chairman and senior vice president.

Public-private partnerships also got generally strong support in the survey, with 73% saying they support the use of P3s. The remaining 27% did not support the use of P3s, which can sometimes be controversial. The public may be perceived to have been taken advantage of by a private company as in some P3 agreements that transfer ownership of a public asset to the private party after the lease expires, often in several decades. Only 5% of respondents said infrastructure should be an entirely private affair, while 43% said it should be the government’s responsibility and 52% said they believed responsibility should be shared between the public and private sectors.

“P3s are in the news as an increasingly popular option for funding new projects,” said Hoeflich. “However, the deals must be structured properly so the public gets the best return on its investment in infrastructure. We can expect to see more of them as the sources of traditional funding are under pressure.”

The survey revealed mixed feelings on managed lanes, which are tolled lanes on otherwise untolled roads which allow drivers the option of paying to avoid congestion. While 70% said they believed managed lanes should be “considered” when making improvements to the nation’s highways, only 18% said that they “strongly” agreed with that. The majority, 52%, said they “somewhat” agreed, while 18% said they somewhat disagreed and 12% said they strongly disagreed.

Hoeflich said he has seen a definite positive trend on public feelings towards tolling in the past several years, and said he was especially positive about the 84% of respondents who said they supported paying more as long as they knew the money would be spent only on infrastructure.

"It's encouraging to see the needle is moving in the right direction," he said.

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Kyle Glazier

Kyle Glazier

Kyle Glazier is a reporter covering market trends, infrastructure, and the Far West region for The Bond Buyer.