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Tolling Points

Cities Have a Stake in Solving the Highway Funding Crisis

Mitchell Beer

On May 13, IBTTA co-hosted a webinar on local transportation funding solutions in partnership with the National League of Cities (NLC). In this interview with Tolling Points, IBTTA Executive Director and CEO Patrick D. Jones looks back on the high points from the webinar.

TP: What were your most important takeaways from the webinar?

PJ: One important takeaway was the opportunity to be engaged with the National League of Cities for an event that took place during National Infrastructure Week.

Another big takeaway was the fragile nature of the funding cities receive to deal with transportation issues. I’m sure every city is different. But in our planning calls for the webinar, it became clear to me that much of the federal funding for the highway program is directed to the states, and only after that does it trickle down to the Metropolitan Planning Organizations or the cities. So depending on how a state disposes of its federal share of transportation funds, it can be a challenge for cities to generate and attract funds from outside their own coffers.

Cities are engines of economic growth. They’ve become centers of vitality and vibrancy. More people live in urban areas than ever before. And yet there’s this fragile connection to financial assistance from either the state or federal government.

TP: Why was it important to hold this webinar during National Infrastructure Week?

PJ: We could have held this webinar at any time. But Infrastructure Week was an added incentive to get associations like ours to collaborate with one another and simply have a conversation. One of the goals of our Moving America Forward campaign is to raise the level of debate about transportation issues in this country and around the world, specifically about tolling. Infrastructure Week is another one of those moments, another megaphone to say this is important. It’s also a moment to bring together people who could be collaborating but may not otherwise think of themselves as collaborators. Toll agencies and cities may not always think about their interests in common, but this was an opportunity to sit side by side and look outward at the same issues.

TP: Is transportation funding getting more attention now than in past years?

PJ: It’s received a great deal of attention this year because of the surface transportation reauthorization. So many groups are talking about the need for investment. But it’s a combination of factors: the legislative calendar, the dwindling of the federal Highway Trust Fund, and the coalescing of forces, organizations, and individuals around the notion that we have to address this transportation funding crisis.

TP: Are legislators getting the message about the range and sophistication of local funding and financing solutions? Particularly tolling in its various applications?

PJ: The tolling message is getting out, perhaps more clearly now than it has in a long time. Maybe in the last decade. Maybe in a generation. When the president included a major tolling provision in his surface transportation proposal, it spawned a lot of discussion, and we’re pleased to be a part of the debate.

TP: What perspectives and resources can an organization like the National League of Cities bring to the highway reauthorization debate?

PJ: That’s a really good question. We’ve heard Members of Congress say they want to hear from real people, real constituents, talking to them about their needs. Not so much the interest groups and trade associations like ours, but people on the ground in states, in cites, in counties, with real transportation problems.

Cities typify what’s happening on the ground. What are the personal stories and struggles that people have to grapple with to deal with the transportation system in their daily lives? What does the first mile look like? What does the last mile look like? Often those first and last miles are in cities, so this is a ripe topic for cities to be talking about.

TP: What can IBTTA members do to reach out to their local representatives as the highway reauthorization debate unfolds? How can they enlist the support of their elected mayors, councillors, city managers or directors of public works?

PJ: We’ve been walking around Congress, visiting with Members and staff, talking about the need for flexibility. Now is a good time for our members to do the same thing with all levels of elected officials, from Mayors to Members of Congress, and if they don’t know them, to introduce themselves and let them know what’s really going out here in the real world.

We have to talk about how tolling supports state infrastructure, how it supports cities and local communities, how it promotes mobility and economic growth, and how flexibility is so important for states. We have to reach out to local officials to bolster the message that states need flexibility to fund highway infrastructure in the way that best suits their needs. Tolling may not make sense in every instance, but where it does, it’s time to reach out.

Learn more about IBTTA’s Moving America Forward campaign. To learn more about tolling, technology in tolling and user financing register for IBTTA's Summit on All-Electronic Tolling, Managed Lanes and Interoperability in July in San Diego, CA and IBTTA’s 82nd Annual Meeting and Exhibition in September in Austin, TX.

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc


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