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  • Writer's pictureZack Deutsch-Gross

Polling Shows More Highways Could Kill the Regional Transportation Measure

As Transform engages on the next Bay Area regional transportation measure via the Connect the Bay Act (SB 1031), we've been very focused on ensuring highway expansion is not part of the regional measure. That position isn’t just rooted in our values but in polling. Here’s what we found.

Climate voters won’t support a measure with highways

In the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s most recent poll on the measure, 30% of voters noted that they are extremely concerned about climate change. And when specifically asked if the measure should only allow projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, 50% said it was a priority. In fact, a plurality of voters polled in all nine counties prioritize only allowing projects that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Putting forward a measure that climate voters will support is fundamental to its success. While limiting highways is not a slam-dunk issue for all voters, these results make it clear that a significant segment of Bay Area voters will vote based on climate change and see highway expansion as antithetical to their values.

While more than three-quarters of Bay Area voters think public transit is important, just 55% of voters would support a regional transportation funding measure if it was placed on the ballot today. Every segment of support is vital to the measure’s success, and opposition from climate voters opposed to highway expansion could doom regional transportation funding at the ballot box.

Voters know highway expansion doesn’t reduce traffic

Research suggests registered voters understand that building new highways and adding lanes are among the worst ways to reduce traffic. In a survey conducted last year by Smart Growth America of more than 2,000 registered voters, repairing existing roads and providing more public transportation options were the top two “best long-term solutions” to traffic congestion.

Digging deeper, the same survey suggested that voters intuitively realize building more highways does not decrease traffic. Only 23% of respondents thought that building highways or adding lanes would reduce traffic, compared to 60% who thought it would increase traffic or have no effect at all. The worst mistake our region could make would be to craft an anti-climate measure in a misguided effort to appease voters who don’t even want highway expansion. 

American Attitudes on Transportation Spending, Smart Growth America, June 2023.

American Attitudes on Transportation Spending, Smart Growth America, June 2023.

Repairing roads and improving safety are winning issues

Instead of spending money on highway expansion, the regional transportation measure should focus on funding for things that voters want: repairing roads and improving safety. In MTC’s October 2023 poll, fixing potholes, repaving roads, and making it easier and safer to get around were by far the top priorities for voters, with over three-quarters of respondents ranking these as important. That’s why Transform and our allies have long argued for a fix-it-first approach to our streets, not wider highways, in the regional measure. 

As part of Plan Bay Area, the region’s long-range strategic plan, MTC identified a $73 billion need for improvements in the coming years just to make our roads and bridges safe and functional. Every dollar we spend on new highways is less money for pothole and bridge repairs, safe streets, and improving alternatives to driving alone.

As MTC considers the language to go into the regional measure this May, it is paramount to include only winning issues like roadway repair and safer streets and not make the mistake of including highway expansion.

Tell MTC you want funding for transit, not new highways.


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