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The MassINC Polling Group is proud to present its latest research into Massachusetts voters’ opinions about transportation in the commonwealth. The survey of registered voters was made possible thanks to support from The Barr Foundation. 

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. 

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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.

About the Poll

These results are based on a representative survey of 709 Massachusetts registered voters. Responses were collected online between December 19, 2017 and January 9, 2018. This project was made possible thanks to support from The Barr Foundation.