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New poll reveals a vast majority of Americans want to steer clear of highway expansions — here’s what they want instead

“Federal, state, and local leaders should follow the lead of the public.”

"Federal, state, and local leaders should follow the lead of the public."

Photo Credit: iStock

Highways have long faced chronic congestion issues, prompting Americans to seek alternative modes of transportation over driving alone.

A national poll by Hattaway Communications revealed that 82% of voters do not believe that expanding or building new highways is the best solution for reducing traffic, highlighting a widespread desire for better transport options, as The Urbanist reported.

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The poll also signals a stark disconnect between public opinion and state government priorities. In 2021, The Washington Post reported that highway expansion consumed more than a third of states’ 2019 capital spending on roads. However, only 11% of the new poll’s respondents feel that their state was able to relieve highway congestion through expansion projects. 

Highway expansions often fail due to the phenomenon of “induced demand,” as added lanes attract more drivers, causing traffic problems to persist. NPR reported that U.S. drivers lost an average of 51 hours to traffic in 2022, emphasizing the negative impact of heavy traffic on overall well-being.

Many respondents to the Hattaway Communications poll advocated for increased investments in public transportation and neighborhood walkability. 69% of participants believe that promoting walking, biking, and public transport can contribute to better community health as opposed to solely relying on cars.

Long car commutes pose various health risks. According to TIME, the more sedentary lifestyle associated with car usage can put you at higher risk for elevated blood pressure, increased cholesterol, back issues, insomnia, depression, and anxiety. These health concerns highlight the urgent need for transportation solutions that prioritize well-being.

National transportation infrastructure improvements address health issues and help combat air pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that a typical passenger vehicle emits about 4.6 metric tons (about 5 tons) of carbon pollution annually. Increasing public transport options, bike lanes, and walkable paths can significantly decrease the country’s planet-overheating gas pollution. 

Highway expansion projects are also linked to environmental justice issues. For example, part of Washington State Route 99 was built through Seattle’s South Park, a neighborhood predominantly composed of people of color. The highway’s obstructive location in the neighborhood burdens residents with dangerous pollution levels, and there is only one bridge in the area that allows pedestrians to get to the other side of town.

The 2021 Infrastructure and Jobs Act aimed to mitigate such systemic environmental issues through the “Reconnecting Communities” program, but unfortunately, it received less funding than originally promised.

Rabi Abonour, a transportation advocate at the Natural Resources Defense Council, emphasizes Americans’ eagerness to invest in initiatives improving communities and quality of life.

“Federal, state, and local leaders should follow the lead of the public and invest in the public transit and related projects that will really improve mobility, clean the air, and address climate pollution,” Abonour said in a press release quoted by The Urbanist.

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