Metro poll suggests strong support for 2016 transportation tax hike

Metro poll suggests two-thirds of L.A. County residents support raising sales tax for transportation projects

More than two-thirds of Los Angeles County residents would support raising the county sales tax by a half-cent to bring in about $120 billion for rail and highway projects, according to a new poll paid for by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

People who identified themselves as likely voters were asked whether they would vote in November 2016 for a ballot measure that would raise the county’s overall sales tax rate to 9.5%. The proposal would also seek to extend Measure R, the half-cent tax approved in 2008, for nearly two more decades.

The combined income from the so-called augment and extend taxation structure could raise $120 billion over 40 years, officials said. The poll hinted at how dramatically that money could bolster transportation infrastructure across Los Angeles County, including a rail and highway tunnel through the Sepulveda Pass, a rail connection from Los Angeles International Airport to the San Fernando Valley, and a Purple Line subway extension from Westwood to Santa Monica.

Under California law, the ballot measure would need the approval of at least 67% of voters. In 2012, a Metro attempt to extend Measure R by three decades fell short by less than 1% of that mark. As it stands, Measure R is projected to raise $35 billion by the time it expires in 2039.

Transportation officials, who have said they would attempt another tax hike only if voter support was initially strong, were encouraged by the polling results. They believe voters will be even more inclined to support a tax hike when they see the scheduled 2016 ribbon-cuttings on the extensions of the Expo Line to Santa Monica and the Gold Line to Azusa, both funded by the original Measure R.

Before hearing any details about the possible 2016 ballot measure, 70% of poll respondents said they would definitely, probably or maybe vote yes. After respondents heard a few of the details, the rate dropped to 63%; but after they received all the information, it rose to 79%.

Nearly two-thirds of the respondents said improvements to streets or freeways were their top priority. About one-fourth preferred light-rail and bus projects.

Asked to rank whether projects were very important, more than 80% supported retrofitting bridges, tunnels and overpasses. About 79% supported keeping transit fares low for seniors, students and the disabled, and 64% were in favor of connecting public transit to regional airports.

The poll also suggested that Westside residents would be more likely to vote for the tax increase if Metro improved traffic flow on the 10 Freeway and extended the Crenshaw Line through the Miracle Mile and into Hollywood.

San Fernando Valley residents would be more likely to approve the measure if Metro widened the 101 Freeway at “key bottlenecks” and built a north-south light-rail line along Van Nuys Boulevard, researchers found.

Respondents living in north Los Angeles County were more likely to approve the measure if Metro widened bottlenecks along the 5 Freeway in Santa Clarita, Newhall and Castaic, and built the High Desert Corridor highway from Palmdale to Victorville, the poll showed.

Those living in southeastern Los Angeles County were more likely to support the tax hike if Metro widened the Golden State Freeway between the 605 and 710 freeways and built a light-rail line between downtown Los Angeles and the Orange County line, through Paramount, Bellflower and Cerritos.

The research firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, which primarily does work on government tax increase issues, performed the survey.

The poll, conducted by telephone from March 17 to 29, surveyed 1,414 county residents, or about 200 people from each of the county's seven areas. The margin of error was plus or minus 2.6 percentage points, and slightly higher for subgroups.

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