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Tolling Points

The IBTTA Legislative Summit: Three Questions to Ask Your Elected Officials

By: 
Bill Cramer

With IBTTA’s Summit on Legislation, Policy, and Infrastructure Finance less than a month away, and the highway reauthorization debate well under way, it’s a good time to think about the questions you will want to ask your elected officials the next time you have a chance.

Whether that conversation is with a Member of Congress, a Governor, a state legislator, or a local official, every IBTTA member can play an important role in building support for tolling. Here are three questions to help you begin the dialogue, along with some facts to leave behind:

1. Do you think the transportation funding crisis can be solved without a wider selection of tools in the funding toolbox?

Elected officials at all levels of government understand that our highway system faces a deep funding crisis. The federal Highway Trust Fund will be bankrupt in 2015, according to the Congressional Budget Office. There’s little appetite to raise state or federal gas taxes, but the money has to come from somewhere.  Roads, bridges and tunnels are not free.

America’s highway system is incredibly diverse, and there are major differences between a congested commuter route in Austin or Atlanta, a freight corridor in Pennsylvania, and a rural highway in Wyoming. No one funding solution will be appropriate for every situation, but tolling has a proven record as a viable funding option.

In written testimony last month to a hearing of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, IBTTA called on Congress to give states “maximum flexibility” to include toll roads in a wider toolbox of highway funding options.

2. Do you think our country, state, or community can achieve its goals for fostering innovation, boosting productivity, and creating jobs without a safe, efficient highway system?

Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) underscored the fundamental importance of highway infrastructure in his opening statement to the Jan. 14 committee hearing.

“Transportation is important—how people get to work, get their children to school, go to stores to buy food, clothing and other necessities, and how they visit family and friends,” he said.

“It’s also about business. Transportation is a critical part of how the supply chain functions, how raw materials get to factories, how finished products get to markets, and how food gets from farms to our kitchens. It allows American businesses to be competitive in the global marketplace, and for our economy to prosper and grow.”

That’s why every legislator at every level of government should be concerned that Americans lost $121 billion and 5.5 billion hours to highway congestion in 2011, according to the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI).

That 1,000 state and local bridges in Pennsylvania were given lower weight restrictions in 2013 due to poor maintenance and repair, according to the Pocono Record.

And that the deteriorated condition of the road network already causes more accidental injuries and deaths than drugs and alcohol combined, according to a presentation to IBTTA’s 2013 Transportation Finance and Mileage-Based User Fee Symposium.

3. Have you heard from constituents that toll roads provide safe and reliable travel, freeing them from wasting time and gas, sitting in congestion?

Most tolling agencies know that the more people drive their toll roads, the better they like them. That’s because tolling is all about choice: Customers can pay for a quicker, more reliable drive when they have to be on time for a job interview, or to pick a child up from day care, then use the general purpose road when they have more time.

Agencies routinely hear from customers whose jobs depend on their ability to speed up their daily commute by taking an express lane to work. They often find out about employers who choose to locate near toll roads that could make just-in-time delivery a reality for their products, rather than a hit-or-miss proposition.

Voters overwhelming continue to support ballot initiatives for transportation funding when they can see direct benefits.  In Illinois, citizens expressed resounding support for a reliable, modern highway system, when 86% voted in favor of an 87% toll increase to fund major reconstruction projects.

Let us know what other questions you plan to ask the next time you’re talking to an elected official. And don’t miss the opportunity to coordinate your legislative strategies with your colleagues across the U.S. and beyond. Register today for the Summit on Legislation, Policy, and Infrastructure Finance, March 9-11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

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