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Poll shows support still strong for Measure R sales tax hike

July 16, 2009 |  6:51 pm

Public support for Measure R, the new Los Angeles County sales tax increase for highway and transit improvements, remains hearty despite the recession, but there are concerns that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is not building projects fast enough, a new MTA poll shows.

The survey of 605 registered county voters found that 68% generally favor Measure R, which is expected to provide up to $40 billion over the next 30 years for a variety of highway and transit projects. About the same percentage of voters approved the measure in November.

“Given the current economy there is strong support for moving ahead with transportation projects in the county,” said Matt Raymond, the MTA's chief communications officer. “There was a concern that support might have been waning.”

In 2005, when the agency polled to gauge the prospects of a half-cent sales tax, 61% of voters supported such a measure.

Raymond noted that the segment of voters who strongly favor the half-cent tax hike has dramatically increased from 31% in 2005 to 45% today. The survey indicated that the public believes that paying for local transportation projects will help bolster job creation amid the recession. Unemployment in the county is now more than 12%.

The poll shows, however, that 61% of registered voters believe that MTA’s highway and transit projects are not happening fast enough to relieve traffic congestion and move the public more efficiently — a concern that has been expressed by local elected officials, some of whom have MTA projects pending in their areas.

The survey was conducted in May by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates, a political consulting and opinion research firm. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4%. MTA presented the results Thursday during a workshop on Measure R.  The increased tax only began to be collected July 1.

Pollsters found that voters strongly support the array of highway and transit projects that would be paid for by the sales tax. About 90% said that highway improvements were very important or somewhat important compared to 77% for light-rail projects and 73% for extending the subway to West Los Angeles.

Another 73% said that it was important to expand bus service while 75% supported more carpool lanes and additional service on Metrolink, the commuter rail line that serves six counties.

Overall, 61% of registered voters gave favorable or somewhat favorable marks to the MTA, similar to the marks they gave Caltrans and Metrolink. However, 46% believe that the MTA’s system of buses, light-rail lines and subways would get them to where they needed to go.

—Dan Weikel