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Poll: How to pay for roads divides Americans

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Congress has kept federal highway and transit programs limping along for the past six years, unable to decide how best to pay for them. Lawmakers' indecision mirrors what The Associated Press and GfK found in a recent opinion survey. Some results:

—Six in 10 Americans think the economic benefits of good highways, railroads and airports outweigh the cost to taxpayers. Among those who drive places multiple times per week, 62 percent say the benefits outweigh the costs. Among those who drive less than once a week or not at all, 55 percent say the costs of road improvement are worthwhile.

—Older Americans are most likely to see a benefit to quality transportation, 66 percent of seniors and 63 percent between ages 50 and 64 compared with 55 percent of those under age 50.

— A majority, 58 percent, opposes raising federal gasoline taxes to fund improvements to roads and bridges or maintenance of public roads. Majorities of drivers oppose raising the gas tax regardless of how often they drive, 61 percent among daily drivers, 60 percent among those who drive less often. Only 14 percent of all adults support raising the gas tax.

—Majorities of both Democrats and Republicans oppose raising the gas tax, with Republicans most apt to oppose an increase — 70 percent compared with 52 percent of Democrats. Conservative Republicans are the most likely to oppose such a shift, 75 percent compared with 61 percent among moderate or liberal Republicans. There's an even larger rift among Democrats by ideology. Among moderate or conservative Democrats, 16 percent support the change, 58 percent oppose it, while among liberal Democrats, 33 percent support it compared with 40 percent who oppose that step.

—By better than a 2-to-1 margin, Americans oppose having private companies pay for construction of new roads and bridges in exchange for the right to charge tolls. Opposition increases with frequency of driving, with 49 percent opposed among those who drive multiple times in a week compared with 38 percent among those who drive once a week or less.

—Shifting to a usage tax based on how many miles a vehicle drives draws more opposition than support as well, with 40 percent opposed while 20 percent support it. Opposition to a usage-based tax also rises with frequency of driving, 46 percent opposed among daily drivers and 38 percent opposed among less-than-daily drivers.

—There is more support than opposition for shifting more responsibility for the cost of transportation projects to state and local governments, but it's very tepid support: 30 percent like that plan, 22 percent oppose it and nearly half are neutral, 46 percent. There is no significant difference between Democrats and Republicans on this question, though conservative Republicans express the greatest support, 40 percent, for this idea.

—Thirty-five percent say the quality of the roads and bridges where they live is getting worse, while 25 percent think their roads and bridges are improving. About 4 in 10 say their local roads and bridges are neither improving nor getting worse.

—More than half, 56 percent, say traffic in the area where they live has gotten worse in the last five years. Only 6 percent say traffic has improved in their area, and 33 percent say it has stayed about the same.

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The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28 using KnowledgePanel, GfK's probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents, larger for subgroups.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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