A Central Ohio Transit Authority bus in Columbus. Getty photo.
A majority of Ohioans support a bipartisan infrastructure package being considered in Washington, D.C., according to a new poll commissioned and touted by a state environmental group.
Around half of the 800 Ohioans polled offered support for the infrastructure bill, with approval rising to 64% after hearing some of the specific proposals in it, such as public transit spending and broadband internet expansion.
The poll found broad support for seven different infrastructure bill components, with most Democrats and most Republicans giving each the thumb’s up. So too did most respondents in a dozen primarily Appalachian counties that were targeted for living in coal and natural gas development areas.
The Nature Conservancy in Ohio, which commissioned a Republican polling firm to conduct the survey, sees the results as evidence that voters from both political parties support efforts to invest in a variety of Ohio infrastructure priorities.
President Joe Biden proposed a sweeping, $2 trillion infrastructure package earlier this year that pitched investments in traditional road and bridge projects along with broader needs such as clean drinking water, affordable housing and child care.
The Biden administration and members of Congress have spent the past few months negotiating a bipartisan deal, but disagreements remain on what all spending priorities should be included and how to pay for them. This is shaping up to be an important week of talks, with GOP Sen. Rob Portman having said on Sunday the negotiators are “about 90% of the way there.”
“It’s been so rapid fire,” Akshai Singh, an Ohio transit activist, said about the back-and-forth of the infrastructure deal-making.
Singh represents a number of transportation organizations, including MOVE Ohio and the National Campaign for Transit Justice. The latter group released its own report this week detailing how proposed funding increases to public transportation would impact transit systems in Ohio, from Youngstown to Dayton.
A majority of public transit riders are people of color, the report notes, and most riders in places like Cleveland and Cincinnati are Black residents. Advocates have long promoted public transit spending as a means of improving economic opportunities, providing racial equity and shifting away from an overreliance on cars.
Those in Ohio repeatedly point to a 2015 study from the state department of transportation that outlined the investments needed to maintain and upgrade transit systems in Ohio cities.
The state lacks a steady funding stream for transit needs, however, with advocates having to push for continued spending every two-year budget cycle. (Gov. Mike DeWine initially proposed cutting state funding for public transportation almost entirely before lawmakers restored the funding.)
It’s argued that federal spending could help cities and states make necessary improvements to keep the transit systems running for decades to come. But there were already federal investments made in 2020 to help those systems stay running during the pandemic, and Republicans in the U.S. Senate are reportedly weary about approving even more.
The report from the National Campaign for Transit Justice tries to make that case. The increased federal spending would allow the transit systems in eight major Ohio cities add new routes and increase service for the routes already offered.
In short, more people would have access to public transportation — and more often.
This is something Democrats and Republicans in Ohio both want, according to the Nature Conservancy poll. Overall, 77% support investments in public transportation along with two-thirds of Republican voters.
Singh and others want to see the infrastructure package allocate $20 billion annually for public transit needs, which Singh said would be a “massive game changer.”
“I still think there’s a lot of optimism that we can win some real investments in equity and climate issues,” Singh said.
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