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Tolling Points

Biden’s Journey of Change Creates Opportunities for Tolling

By: 
Bill Cramer

The United States begins a journey of change this week, and there will be ample opportunities for the tolling and user financing community to put itself in the picture.

New administrations in Washington, DC always bring a shift in direction. Look back four years, 12 years, 40 years ago or even 60 years. But this transition carries a different, heavier expectation, and the next few weeks and months will tell whether that potential translates into real momentum.

President-Elect Joseph R. Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris take office tomorrow in the midst of a global health emergency, millions out of work, hundreds of thousands of businesses at risk as well as our democracy in the U.S. The Biden administration is promising fast, thorough-going action on multiple fronts, while also setting out to heal a fractured, polarized political culture.

Building Back Better

To get there, they adopted buildbackbetter.gov as the official address for their transition website.

Their campaign pledged to “create millions of good, union jobs rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure—from roads and bridges to green spaces and water systems to electricity grids and universal broadband—to lay a new foundation for sustainable growth, compete in the global economy, withstand the impacts of climate change, and improve public health, including access to clean air and clean water.”

And while their first order of business will be a $1.9-trillion pandemic relief bill, a second round of stimulus in February will embody the new administration’s big plans on infrastructure, clean energy, workforce development and more.

In remarks last Thursday, Biden called it a “two-step plan to build a bridge to the other side of the crises we face and to a better, stronger, more secure America.” Citing independent analysis by Moody’s Investor Services, the President-Elect said his Build Back Better Recovery Plan will create more than 18 million jobs while making “historic investments in infrastructure and manufacturing, innovation, research and development, and clean energy. Investments in the caregiving economy and in skills and training needed by our workers to compete and win the global economy of the future.”

We’ve also seen a first sign that the new administration plans a major rethink in surface transportation. Earlier this month, a spokesperson for Senator Thomas Carper (D-DE), who’s expected to take the chair of the powerful Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said he intends to map out a new surface transportation bill for adoption this year. The official noted “that Senate control gives Democrats the opportunity to significantly build on that bill’s climate title and other key priorities,” Politico reports [subs req’d].

“One of Senator Carper’s top priorities will be to break ground on a better future, which includes supporting the priorities laid out in President-Elect Biden’s Build Back Better agenda,” the spokesperson said.

The same role…but different

As the contours of the new administration and its priorities gradually become clear, it’s to be expected that some assumptions and priorities will change—but that an essential role for tolling and user financing will emerge pretty quickly.

A new surface transportation bill will create moments of need and opportunity for legislators to deploy every tool in the funding and financing toolbox.

The depth of the COVID-19 crisis, and the economic hardship it has produced, will raise the stakes for a federal infrastructure program that puts people to work, while supporting the highway networks that keep people and goods in motion and Move America Forward.

Bus and subway systems that have been devastated by the pandemic will need new sources of funding. IBTTA member agencies in Atlanta, San Francisco, Austin, Tampa-Hillsborough, New York, New Jersey and elsewhere have hands-on experience with innovative strategies to combine the strengths of tolling and transit.

An administration with an eye on a low-carbon future may also shift the way tolling and transportation technology planners see that future unfolding. Technology and financing will still, always be at the center of the picture. But a program that calls for rapid electrification, more transit and high-speed rail, and closer attention to active mobility will only accelerate a decline in gas tax revenues that has already had state and local governments looking to user financing as a solution.

The day before the inauguration isn’t the best time to place firm bets on which changes will happen when, or which new directions will become firm policies and programs. But if change calls for an ability to think strategically and adapt on the fly…look no farther than the tolling industry for a tech-savvy community that is ready to serve. It’s going to be an interesting ride, and tomorrow’s official ceremonies will put us at the starting gate.

Click here to download your copy of IBTTA’s Grassroots Toll Kit.

Newsletter publish date: 
Tuesday, January 19, 2021 - 06:15

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