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Americans Willing to Pay More to Fix Roads: Survey

The harsh winter is taking a toll on roads across the country, turning them into moonscapes of gaping potholes.

In this Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 photo, a driver navigates past several potholes in Bloomington, Minn. American drivers appear weary of teeth-rattling roads, saying they're willing to pay more for road repairs, according to a AAA survey. Jim Mone / AP

Perhaps it’s the jarring that drivers take commuting every day, never mind the cost of replacing pothole-stricken tires and keeping suspensions aligned. Despite the nation’s generally anti-tax mindset, a new study indicates U.S. motorists are fed up and willing to shell out a bit of cash for road repairs.

A majority of those surveyed by AAA said they’d be more likely to vote for a member of Congress who supports increased federal spending on transportation.

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"Many of us are willing to pay a little more if it means we will have access to better roads, bridges and transit systems," said AAA President and CEO Bob Darbelnet. "It is time for our nation's leaders to stand with those in Congress who support improving our country's transportation system."

From California to Maine, America’s roadway infrastructure has been crumbling, even as state and federal dollars needed to fix the problem have come up short.

The road and travel service suggests that the sorry state of U.S. roads already serves as a tax, of sorts, estimating the average motorist must put out about $324 annually for vehicle repairs related to bad roads — such as flat tires. Other studies have indicated that commuters must spend more time behind the wheel, while transportation costs for consumer goods also rise as the result of slower speeds, detours and other delays.

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The AAA study was based on telephone survey responses from more than 2,000 Americans over the age of 18, about evenly split between men and women, in early May. And it generated some results that might seem to conflict with the current national mood questioning government spending. A full two-thirds, 68 percent, of the respondents said Washington should increase spending on roads, bridges and mass transit systems. Only 5 percent said spending should be cut.

With Congress itself considering a boost in the transportation budget, the survey suggests there’s at least something of a mandate to raise more revenue, with 52 percent of those polled telling AAA they’d be willing to pay higher fuel taxes — a subject generally seen as a political “third rail” in Washington.

How much more? One in five said they’d be OK with paying up to $4.99 extra a month. An equal number said $10 or more. The rest of those willing to shell out their cash put the figure somewhere in between.

And to give lawmakers more ammunition, the study also found 51 percent of the survey subjects more likely to vote for a member of Congress willing to support increased transportation spending – compared to just 19 percent who said they’d be less likely to support a lawmaker who took that step.

The poll’s timing was far from coincidental. Funding for the Highway Trust Fund is running short and lawmakers need to take action before their summer recess to keep it solvent.

"Congress must prevent severe maintenance delays during the height of the summer driving season by preventing a Highway Trust Fund bankruptcy in August," asserted AAA chief Darbelnet, who declared, “Americans are fed up” with the state of the nation’s roads and the “political inaction” that has blocked needed repairs.

The federal Highway Trust Fund is currently supported by an 18.4 cents per gallon tax on gasoline and a 24.4 cents per gallon tax on diesel. Congress hasn’t raised it since 1993 despite the nearly fourfold increase in overall fuel prices – which averaged around $1 a gallon that year.

Backers of the Trust Fund note that fuel economy has sharply increased over the past two decades – reaching record levels in May, according to data compiled by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. Several states are now considering ways to increase fees for super high-mileage hybrids and battery cars, while others are studying alternatives such as road and registration fees that would be based on a motorist’s annual mileage.

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