Not what DC-area residents want. Photo by MyEyeSees on Flickr.

Over 90% of area residents want more public transportation options, walkable neighborhoods, and jobs close to housing, a WTOP poll found.

WTOP’s article on the subject emphasized highway construction instead. Highways garnered moderate support, but not as much as transit.

65% supported widening highways, but only 51% of people said they favor new regional highways. Inside DC, a large majority (59%) oppose widenings new highways. Only 56% of Virginians want to widen their roads  add highways, and Marylanders are evenly split.

I’d have actually guessed the poll would produce higher majorities for the road projects. If widening or building a highway affects people’s own neighborhoods, most would oppose it, but the typical person who doesn’t follow transportation policy closely but does drive usually tends to support widenings and new roads by default.

The fact that large majorities of people don’t want new highways and are closely split on widening existing ones shows the effect of our region’s decades of debate on these issues. Residents realize that new roads actually don’t make their lives better, since new vehicle trips just fill up the new capacity within a few years, and the existing driver faces the same traffic as before.

About two thirds of residents thought new bridges across the Potomac River were a good idea, though it’s less clear what those bridges would connect to, since many of the same respondents apparently don’t want to increase road capacity on each end.

Also not surprisingly, people don’t want to pay for any transportation projects. They oppose both tolls and higher gas taxes.

Given this, it’s sad that Governor McDonnell keeps pushing the Outer Beltway, and Maryland continues to put the $3 billion I-270 widening ahead of the Purple Line in its priority list for how to spend future federal funds. That’s because 82% of respondents “agree with the strategy of locating growth around existing employment centers,” while large numbers (about half of respondents regionwide) oppose growth in rural areas. Yet the big-ticket transportation priorities of both states would push rural growth over strengthening today’s job centers.

Smart growth is what the region wants. We should focus on transit, expanding walkable neighborhoods and building more, and putting new housing and jobs in existing dense areas and near underutilized transit stations. That’s the only way to add more people to the region and help everyone get to and from work without the massive highway expansions which many people don’t want and very few want to pay for.

Correction: I listed some of the numbers as reflecting public support for widening existing highways that are actually the levels of support for new highways. The post has been updated.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.