HNTB survey: NYC residents see urgent need for transportation network repairs

New York — An overwhelming 98 percent of tri-state area residents think the current state of the region’s transportation network is in need of urgent repairs, according to a new survey of New York City tri-state residents, from HNTB Corporation.

Top priorities for repairs cited by these respondents are local roads (27 percent), subways (23 percent) and the region’s highways (20 percent). These are followed by bridges (12 percent), the bus system (10 percent), and commuter rails (6 percent).

Also, the survey found that among the region’s residents who commute to work, the reported average commuting time is 48 minutes each way, or 8 hours per week.

The survey, America THINKS: Views on the Metro NYC Regional Transportation Network, asked residents from New York City’s five boroughs; Bergen and Hudson counties in New Jersey; Westchester and Rockland counties in New York; and Fairfield County, Conn., for their opinions on the region’s entire transportation infrastructure. This regional study is part of HNTB’s America THINKS survey series, an ongoing national study of critical transportation infrastructure issues.

“It’s no secret the New York City tri-state region contains some of the oldest, most congested and overburdened transportation infrastructure in the nation. There are no easy answers for the region’s transportation agencies, planners, think tanks and politicians who are seeking solutions,” said Mike Sweeney, HNTB chairman of professional services and New York office leader. “Most people are unhappy with the region’s congestion, and everyone is aware of the lack of funding and space constraints that make creating new capacity incredibly difficult. But there are proven options now available that can help relieve congestion, improve reliability and pay for the upgrade and expansion of the transportation network.”

Unsatisfied with the transportation network in its current state, the region’s residents are calling for creative responses to deal with critical challenges:

  • Finding innovative solutions to increasing congestion, such as priced managed lanes and the application of new technologies
  • Improving dependability of the network to effectively move people, goods and services
  • Sourcing additional funds to invest in infrastructure
  • Maintaining the transportation network in a good state of repair

Congestion – a way out?
Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of residents in the tri-state region expect congestion to worsen over the next five years. When introduced to the concept of priced managed lanes, an emerging option that can help alleviate roadway congestion by providing drivers access to dedicated express lanes and paying a toll to use them, 64 percent believes the creation of managed lanes would help reduce congestion. More importantly, 70 percent of drivers would be willing to pay to use them.

“This is important news for our region. Priced managed lanes could be part of a potential solution to congestion. They have been previously discussed, but never seriously considered here. They have been adopted in many locations around the nation, like Northern Virginia and throughout Florida, and many other urban areas are considering their use,” Sweeney said. “While there would be challenges in implementing an effective PML system in this region due to space restrictions on existing highways, it is important to note that not only is there recognition of the value of this approach to help alleviate congestion, there is a willingness among 70 percent of drivers to make use of them.”

Is adequate good enough?
Nearly 3 in 5 respondents (57 percent) rate the region’s transportation network as adequate, at best. When asked about the reliability of the region’s transportation network, 85 percent said the network is lacking.

Respondents also were asked what quality was most needed in the region’s transportation network. Among the responses:

  • More than 2 in 5 (43 percent) believe reliability is the most crucial element needed in the region’s transportation system.
  • Affordability ranks much lower at 22 percent
  • Frequency of scheduled service lower yet at 20 percent
  • Comfort was rated at 9 percent
  • Expanded routes was 5 percent

The survey also shows that almost two-thirds (62 percent) of residents in the tri-state region are concerned that transportation infrastructure could experience a catastrophic failure in the next 12 months resulting from a natural disaster or structural mishap.

“The findings point to some interesting potential priorities. This region’s lifeblood is our transportation infrastructure, fed by the need to rely on the efficient and effective movement of people, goods and services. Success in meeting expectations will require careful planning, identifying priorities, adequate funding, and cooperation across our region,” Sweeney said.

Support for investments in the transportation system
The findings show a high level of recognition and concern among tri-state residents for the importance of funding the viability of the region’s transportation network.

When asked how to pay for improvements of the system, a total of 61 percent of respondents believe funding should come from tolls or user fees (32 percent) or public transportation fares (29 percent). These direct fees were favored over sales taxes (22 percent) and property taxes (17 percent).

More than two-thirds (67 percent) of people in this region believe it’s important to invest in maintaining existing infrastructure versus expansion. And more than 3 in 4 (78 percent) believe investing in new technologies for the future of the transportation network is important, with 35 percent who believe new technologies are extremely important.

“While most everyone agrees with the need to invest in transportation infrastructure, there is much discussion as to where to look for funds,” Sweeney said. “Alternative sources of funding do exist and are increasingly being used to pay for transportation infrastructure. Among the most prominent of these alternatives are public-private partnerships, or P3s. As an example, the Goethals Bridge Replacement is a current P3 project, and a P3 will be used to fund a new central terminal building at La Guardia Airport. While P3s are not a silver bullet, in the proper circumstances, they are a proven and effective tool.”

“The transportation infrastructure in the tri-state New York region is at a critical juncture. For too long, we’ve ignored problems like congestion, deferred critical maintenance and improvements to our roads, tunnels and bridges, and we’ve seen how unexpected events such as Superstorm Sandy can paralyze the region,” he said. “We must find the means to move forward and create a comprehensive approach that will give this region the transportation network needed to thrive for decades to come.”

About this survey
The HNTB survey was conducted by Kelton Global between April 3 and April 23, 2014 among 1,001 Americans ages 18 and over living in the tri-state area including Kings, Queens, Bronx, Richmond, Westchester, Rockland, Fairfield, Bergen and Hudson counties, using an e-mail invitation and an online survey. Quotas were set to ensure reliable and accurate representation of the total tri-state population ages 18 and over. Margin of error is +/- 3.1 percent.


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