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Tolling Points

Coca-Cola Joins the Wave

By: 
Bill Cramer

Imagine a day in the not-too-distant future when the majority of your customers, family, friends, and neighbors take it as given that we all have to share the cost of the highway infrastructure we rely on every day.

That’s what happens when an idea goes mainstream. And there’s mounting evidence that a deeper understanding of user fees, and their fundamental importance to anyone who would benefit from safe, reliable transportation, is just about to tip.

The latest snapshot comes from a transportation roundtable in Atlanta last month, hosted by Bill Shuster (PA-9), Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The roundtable covered a lot of ground, but the user fee moment grabbed the headline with an astute Bloomberg Government News reporter in the room.

“The Coca-Cola Co. and the United Parcel Service are open to paying some form of user fees in exchange for improvements to the federal highways they rely on for moving freight,” wrote Bloomberg’s Chris Marr.

“The executives didn't provide details on the dollar amounts or types of fees that their companies might find palatable, but simply acknowledged their willingness to contribute,” Marr reported. Shuster’s focus during the roundtable was on long-term solutions to the infrastructure funding crisis, and “Michael Broaders, Coca-Cola's vice president for transportation and supply chain, said Coca-Cola also is willing to contribute.”

$105 Million Per Year

It takes many droplets to make a wave, and Coca-Cola is just the latest opinion leader to join this particular one.

UPS had already been vocal on the cost of congested highways. “The worst [highway] bottlenecks are very problematic for our members, as well as the motoring public,” Vice President, Public Affairs Pat Thomas told IBTTA’s 82nd Annual Meeting and Exhibition in Austin, Texas last September, speaking on behalf of the American Trucking Associations.

“If every one of our drivers sits in traffic for five minutes every day, that costs our company $105 million a year,” he noted earlier in the year, at IBTTA’s 2014 Summit on Legislation, Policy & Infrastructure Finance.

IBTTA President Javier Rodriguez summed it up last year when he was asked how business should respond to a toll increase on the Miami-Dade Expressway, where he serves as executive director:

We can choose not to fix the interchanges, widen the facilities, or provide for future bus rapid transit. The result would be that the business owner would probably go out of business because the trucks would be stuck on the highway or stuck on the arterials.  That’s not a solution.  So as this community grows and as this economy grows, the infrastructure has to keep pace with it.

Building the Wave

Support for user fees—from tolls, to road usage charging, to gas taxes—will become a wave as more and more businesses understand Rodriguez’ point.

Three and a half decades ago, we heard a highway safety advocate talk about the process of public acceptance and support that flips an idea from content to context. It’s content if you have to think about it. It’s context if you just take it for granted that the idea is right.

His example was mandatory seat belts, a development that was once considered edgy by many, intrusive by some.

His job was to campaign against impaired driving.

Fast forward to today. Impaired driving isn’t just illegal. It’s socially unacceptable. It still happens, but no one is debating the merits of impaired driving laws. (Let’s hope distracted drivers get the memo soon.

That’s the momentum that will some day make it unacceptable to underfund highways, putting drivers’ safety at risk and tying them down in snarled traffic.

That’s why it was important for Coca-Cola to speak out, important that Chairman Shuster and several Congressional colleagues were in the room. When you’re building a wave, every droplet matters.

Help build the wave! Click here to find out more about IBTTA’s Moving America Forward campaign.

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