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Poll: Americans worried but reject higher taxes to fix bridges

  • Story Highlights
  • Fifty-two percent of Americans worried that a bridge will collapse in the U.S.
  • One-third feel a bridge they drive over regularly will collapse
  • Nearly two-thirds reject higher gas taxes to inspect or repair bridges
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Nearly half of all Americans are worried about the collapse of a bridge somewhere in the United States, yet nearly two-thirds reject higher taxes to inspect and fix them, according to a new CNN/Opinion Research Corp. poll released Thursday.

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The collapse of a bridge in Minnesota has put America's infrastructure on the political agenda.

In the poll, 52 percent were either "very worried" or "somewhat worried" about a bridge collapsing. Forty-seven percent were either "not too worried" or "not worried at all." One percent had no opinion.

But only one in three Americans are concerned that a bridge that they drive across regularly will collapse, while 69 percent are not worried.

In an effect called BIMBY -- "Better In My Back Yard" -- that is common in polling, CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said people often feel that situations locally are better than the national averages.

The new numbers come eight days after an interstate highway bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota, collapsed into the Mississippi River. At least five people were killed in the collapse.

Despite the concerns, only one-third of those polled favor increasing the tax on gas to pay for bridge inspections and repairs. The federal program to inspect and repair bridges is funded mostly by the federal tax on gasoline. Sixty-five percent of those questioned were against raising that tax.

"Polls sometimes show that the public is willing to accept higher taxes to pay for popular projects, but not in this case," Holland said. "With the price of gasoline hovering around $3, it may not be surprising that Americans don't want to pay any more at the pump, even though they worry about bridge safety."

Several members of the House Transportation Committee are calling for the tax hike in the wake of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis last week. Congressman James Oberstar, D-Minnesota, on Wednesday said he would introduce legislation for bridge repair funding and increased inspections. He says a 5-cent increase in the gas tax would pay for the proposed three-year program by generating $8.5 billion a year.

Citing 74,000 bridges rated by the federal government as "structurally deficient," Oberstar told reporters "we cannot wait for another tragedy. We must, and we will, act decisively."

At a news conference Thursday morning at the White House, President Bush dismissed raising the federal gasoline tax, at least until Congress changes the way it spends highway money.

"It's an interesting question, about how Congress spends and prioritizes highway money," the president said. "My suggestion would be that they revisit the process by which they spend gasoline money in the first place."

"If bridges are a priority, let's make sure we set that priority first and foremost, before we raise taxes," Bush said.

The poll involved telephone interviews with 1,029 American adults conducted August 6-8, 2007. The poll's margin of error was plus-or-minus 3 percentage points E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Steve Brusk contributed to this report.

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