Poll shatters transportation myths

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Several myths about public attitudes toward transportation have been shattered by results of a new Minnesota 2020 poll of adult state residents. The telephone survey of 800 respondents was conducted by the Feldman Group Inc. Feb. 4-10, two weeks before the Minnesota Legislature enacted a major transportation finance package over Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s veto.

Myth No. 1: Minnesotans broadly opposed increasing the state gasoline tax for the first time in 20 years, as the transportation bill will do.

Fact: After being reminded that the gas tax is dedicated exclusively to roads and bridges, respondents split evenly on the question of raising it 5 to 10 cents a gallon (the override will add 8.5 cents over several years to the current 20-cent levy). Twin Cities area residents, in fact, supported the tax hike 51 percent to 38 percent. Rural Minnesotans, however, opposed it 52 percent to 36 percent.

Myth No. 2: Passenger rail initiatives get little support from Minnesotans, especially those outside the metro area.

Fact: Nearly three-quarters of respondents agreed that “the state should be exploring more ways to expand and promote regional rail services as a means of affordable and efficient transportation.” In the metro area, 74 percent gave that a thumbs-up. But support was nearly as widespread outstate, with 69 percent in agreement.

These strong findings should lend impetus to efforts to launch not only new rail and bus rapid transit lines in the Twin Cities, but also passenger rail lines from the Twin Cities to Duluth, Rochester, Willmar and Chicago.

Myth No. 3: Transportation infrastructure is a major issue for DFLers, but not for Republicans.

Fact: DFLers rated transportation well behind health care, education and the economy/jobs on their list of concerns for the poll. For Republicans, however, roads and transportation tied for the No. 1 spot, dead even with taxes, with 36 percent listing each as a top concern. When it came to the gas tax, the latter concern won out among the GOP faithful, but by a surprisingly narrow margin. Forty percent of Republicans supported raising it, versus 50 percent who were opposed.

Some of the findings, however, should shock no one.

Asked to rate the condition of roads, bridges and highways in Minnesota, 63 percent of respondents statewide called them just fair or poor. And only 3 percent said they were excellent. Outstate Minnesotans have a better opinion of their infrastructure than Twin Citians, but 56 percent of the former still issued a negative rating. More than two-thirds of metro residents (68 percent) gave thumbs-down to “transportation infrastructure in the state overall.”

In general, Republicans were less negative (51 percent) about our infrastructure than DFLers (66 percent) and independents (68 percent). But among respondents who named roads and transportation as a top concern, 74 percent rated it fair or poor.

The survey polled a random statewide sample of 500 adults, plus an oversample of 300 additional outstate residents. The total was weighted to an effective sample of 500 interviews, 275 from the Twin Cities area and 225 from Greater Minnesota. The maximum margin of sampling error for a 95 percent level of confidence in the findings was 4.4 percentage points plus or minus.

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