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Poll reveals demand for mass transit projects

Support for projects differs across state, but all agree on need


Some state legislators are quietly considering increasing Oregon’s gas tax to pay for more transportation projects — a move that would hit drivers’ wallets but could help pave the way for important transportation improvements to Forest Grove and surrounding communities.

Beyond the question of whether to raise the tax is the question of what to do with the additional money.

Should the focus be on roads and bridges, or on mass transit and other methods of moving people around? Your answer may depend on your hometown and your political affiliation.

Portland-area residents continue to favor trains and buses, while many in other areas of Oregon want better roads for their personal automobiles, according to the 2013 Oregon Values & Beliefs Project survey, which asked thousands of Oregonians to explain how they would spend transportation dollars.

Unlike most polls, this survey attached cost implications — informing respondents that the priorities they chose meant they were willing to raise taxes or reduce other services to fund them.

The top priority overall was maintenance of roads and highways, which was rated very important or somewhat important by 72 percent of poll respondents. Public transportation such as buses and trains came in second, with 55 percent support. And new roads and highways came in third, with 49 percent.

The slight preference for public transportation over new roads and highways might seem surprising, given recent controversies over light rail and the fact that most Oregonians depend on motor vehicles for day-to-day travel. But an analysis conducted by DHM Research, the company that conducted the survey, points to one possible explanation.

“Support for public transit may be due in part to emerging changes in how people feel about cars. A broad range of surveys in recent years suggests that people are less likely to view cars as a pathway to freedom and mobility, or as an expression of their personal identity,” according to the analysis.

But support for mass transit varies greatly.

Unsurprisingly, Portland residents are the most enthused, with 74 percent indicating a willingness to spend more tax money on buses and trains.

Outside the state’s largest city, residents seem to favor a balance between transit and automobiles.

Looking at the state as a whole, 53 percent of respondents said they support more transit funding, but that seeming majority is hardly uniform in its political makeup.

“About two-thirds of Democrats support public transportation investment, while just one-third of Republicans do,” according to the DHM analysis.

Democrats dominate the Portland area and Willamette Valley, so it’s no surprise that support for transit is strong there — 55 and 53 percent respectively. It’s also strong in Southern Oregon (54 percent), where Ashland is a Democratic enclave. It is weaker in Central Oregon (48 percent) and Eastern Oregon (45 percent).

After Portland, DHM research reports, the strongest metro-area support for mass transit is found in Lake Oswego, at 61 percent, followed by:

n Sherwood, Tigard and Tualatin: 57 percent

n Forest Grove and Oregon City (and the rest of Clackamas County): 56 percent

n Beaverton: 54 percent

n Hillsboro, Canby and Molalla: 52 percent

n West Linn-Wilsonville: 51 percent

n Gresham: 46 percent support.

Conversely, support for new roads and highways is weakest in Portland — 22 percent — and greater outside the city, getting support from 47 percent of the residents in Canby and Mollalla; 45 percent in Hillsboro; 40 percent in Beaverton; 44 percent in Gresham; 42 percent in Forest Grove; 40 percent in West Linn, Wilsonville and Oregon City (and the rest of Clackamas County); and 38 percent in Sherwood, Tigard and Tualatin.

Averaged together, 37 percent of Portland-area residents favor new road construction. Eastern Oregon gives the strongest support with 46 percent, 45 percent in Central Oregon, 39 percent in the Willamette Valley and 38 percent in Southern Oregon.

Of course, support in polls doesn’t always translate into new projects. Although the Portland-to-Milwaukie MAX line is nearing completion, three other transit projects have run into trouble.

In 2012, the Lake Oswego City Council blocked an extension of the Portland Streetcar that had been studied for years. In 2013, the Washington state legislature killed a new light-rail line between Portland and Vancouver when it refused to fund its share of the Columbia River Crossing.

And a proposed high-capacity transit line between Portland and Tualatin has been threatened by Tigard voters’ recent approval of a measure requiring a public vote on any new transit line in their city. Tualatin voters will face a similar “vote first” measure in September.

Outside Portland, Tigard and Tualatin residents voiced the second-strongest support for mass transit in the survey.

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