Traffic ahead?

The present and future of transportation in Massachusetts

This morning The MassINC Polling Group released its latest polling on voter opinions on transportation in Massachusetts at an event hosted by Transportation for Massachusetts. The research was made possible by The Barr Foundation.

The event couldn’t have been more timely. During the presentation, news broke that Massachusetts had dropped from first to eight in US News and World Reports state rankings. The downgrade was due to concerns about the state’s infrastructure and finances

(left to right) MPG President Steve Koczela, Eastern Bank VP Quincy Miller, and MAPC Gov. Affairs Director Lizzi Weyant

After an introduction by T4MA Executive Director Chris Dempsey, MPG President Steve Koczela ran through the major polling results: what voters think about transportation in the commonwealth now, what they support doing about it, and what they think about new technology that could transform the way we get around.

Then Lizzi Weyant, Government Affairs Director for the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, discussed how the poll results relate to policies and legislation currently under consideration in the state. And Quincy Miller, Vice President of Eastern Bank and a board member of the Alliance for Business Leadership, talked about the relationship between transportation and economic opportunity.

Thanks to everyone who attended the event this morning. Below is a summary of the poll, and links to some of the press coverage.

Key findings

Massachusetts voters have seen little progress in recent years in terms of getting around. Perhaps because of these concerns, transportation is in the top tier of priority issues voters want to see addressed.  The poll found openness to an array of policies to reduce traffic congestion, fund local projects, and reduce greenhouse gases from transportation sources. Looking ahead, voters are apprehensive about the impacts of new technologies on the transportation system.

View slides | View topline results | View crosstabs

Among the key findings:

  • Voters report few improvements over the last few years in terms of getting around. Only 14 percent say getting around their part of the state has gotten better in the past 5 years. Many more say getting around has gotten worse (38 percent), and 46 percent say it’s stayed about the same.
  • About half (51 percent) of voters think transportation is good enough to keep the economy moving. The rest think the system is bad enough that it is holding back the state economy (35 percent) or are unsure. Half of Boston voters (49 percent) and of MBTA subway riders (50 percent) think the T is holding the economy back.
  • Transportation is now a top-tier policy issue in the commonwealth. Three-quarters (73 percent) think improving roads, highways and bridges should be a “major priority” for state government; 64 percent think the same about improving public transportation. Looking back a few years, transportation issues often received much less priority in voter polls.
  • Despite their concerns, 57 percent approve of Gov. Baker’s handling of transportation, slightly lower than his overall favorable rating. A quarter disapprove. But voters in Boston are split, with 41 percent approving and 38 percent disapproving.
  • In terms of improving getting around, majorities of voters think improving roads (55 percent) and transit (56 percent) would be very effective. Over the course of many polls on these issues, voters have prioritize both roads and transit. In Boston and its closest suburbs, 65 percent think making transit more frequent and reliable would be very effective.
  • There is widespread support (78 percent) for extending the commuter rail west to Springfield and south to Fall River and New Bedford. There is majority support even in regions that would not directly benefit.
  • Voters support raising new funding for transportation generally (81 percent), as well as several specific ideas, including tolls earmarked for regional congestion (61 percent), letting regions put transportation funding before voters at the ballot (70 percent), and charging gasoline importers a pollution fee to fund cleaner transportation (59 percent). The issue of regional balloting has received strong support in our polls going back to 2012.
  • A majority (61 percent) of voters would favor toll discounts to encourage driving into and out of Boston during off-peak hours. Nearly as many (55 percent) would oppose raising toll during rush hours.
  • There is little consensus on the effect ride-hailing apps like Uber or Lyft are having on traffic. A plurality (43 percent) see little difference, and the remainder are split equally between thinking they make traffic better (20 percent), worse (19 percent) or being unsure (18 percent).
  • Voters are viewing self-driving cars with caution. Pluralities think they will make traffic worse (37 percent) and make the roads less safe for other cars (46 percent) and bicycles and pedestrians (45 percent). Few see the coming of autonomous vehicles as a reason to wait on investing in the current system.

This survey is our latest research into the issue of transportation in Commonwealth. In 2013, MPG released Construction Ahead? which looked at perceptions of the current system and various funding options in advance of that year’s transportation funding debate and legislation. MPG has continued to research transportation for Barr and for WBUR, including a 2016 poll on traffic in Greater Boston.


Poll: Transportation Is Still Bad And Needs More Money, Mass. Residents Say –February 27, 2018 – 90.9 WBUR
Massachusetts voters don’t feel transportation in the state has improved within the last five years, and are clamoring for more funding to fix roads, bridges and the MBTA, a new poll found.

Transportation is top priority for Mass. residents, survey says – February 27, 2018 – Fox25 Boston

Massachusetts voters split on whether to add all-electronic tolling to other state highways, new poll says – February 26, 2018 –
Voters in Massachusetts are split when they’re asked whether the metal gantries that collect money through transponders and an all-electronic tolling system should go up in other parts of the state.

Should Massachusetts ban drivers from using cellphones with exceptions for ‘hands-free mode’ and emergencies? – February 26, 2018 –
Massachusetts voters say they largely support a ban on drivers using their cellphones, GPS or other electronic devices unless they’re in a “hands-free mode.”

Poll finds high support for East-West rail connecting Springfield to Boston – February 27, 2018 – Boston Business Journal
The idea to expand the Massachusetts commuter rail system to connect Boston with the cities of Springfield, Fall River and New Bedford, is drawing support from most Bay State voters in a new poll.

New poll: High support for East-West rail connecting Springfield to Boston – February 26, 2018 – MassLive
Expanding the Massachusetts commuter rail system to connect Boston with the cities of Springfield, Fall River and New Bedford, is an idea drawing support from most Bay State voters in a new poll.

Meet The Authors

Steve Koczela

President, The MassINC Polling Group

Rich Parr

Senior Research Director, The MassINC Polling Group

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