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Tolling Points

Momentum for Infrastructure Investment

By: 
Bill Cramer

It’s an intangible asset that makes all the difference, whether you’re developing a new project or building a local infrastructure coalition.

It’s more difficult to define, track, or measure than the conventional progress markers that drive a complicated project plan or support a multi-year bond issue.

But it can make all the difference when you’re trying to introduce a fast-moving, badly-needed new service for a community that needs it, or—even more so—trying to build buy-in and support for the new idea behind that service.

Momentum sums up so much of what the U.S. tolling industry has achieved since IBTTA introduced its Moving America Forward campaign several years ago. People are talking about infrastructure, tolling, and other forms of user financing in ways they never have before. As it happens, the early days of this year’s Infrastructure Week were a marker for how much ground we’ve covered together, for how much louder, more insistent and numerous our voices have become in just a few short years.

Four Days. Three Stories. One Milestone.

It isn’t unusual for Infrastructure Week to generate a small flurry of news coverage. What’s notable this year is that so many of the stories are taking the need for a big infusion of infrastructure funding as a given—as context, not content—and treating tolling the same way.

The three stories crowding our desk at the moment appeared in three daily newspapers over a four-day period. But they all showed up in sequence in the Monday morning edition of IBTTA’s SmartBrief newsletter .

  • On May 8, The Boston Globe reported that Gov. Charlie Baker (R) and Mayor Marty Walsh (D) would be in Washington, DC this week, in a bipartisan effort to advocate for badly-needed infrastructure funds. IBTTA was the only transportation association cited in the story, with a quote from Executive Director and CEO Pat Jones continuing to press tolling as one proven funding option that should be in the mix.
  • On May 10, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont visited a well-known traffic chokepoint along Interstate 91 to continue pressing his case for tolling as well, actually, as the cornerstone of most everything that matters.  “We have issues like this all over the state,” he said. “If we can get these chokepoints, we can dramatically impact transportation and all those hundreds of thousands of hours wasted, could be productive. And those would mean jobs, and that would mean growth, and that would mean opportunity. And we can’t put it off any longer.”
  • Then on May 12, a Washington Post-Schar School poll showed a decisive majority in favor of adding tolled express lanes to Interstate 270 and the Maryland stretch of the Capital Beltway: Support averaged 61% across the DC Metro area, ranging from a high of 69% in Fairfax County and City to 48% in Prince George’s County.That didn’t stop some citizens from turning out to protest Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s traffic relief plan, showing the need to address local concerns about housing loss due to a wider highway. “I don’t have a problem using tolls to make some lanes more passable,” said Silver Springs resident Joyce Thomas. “Because right now, nothing is passable.”

A ‘Passable’ Solution

The coverage, and the specific wording, point to this year’s Infrastructure Week as a potential milestone in the search for a “passable” solution to the transportation infrastructure funding crisis.

No one expects any road to be completely free of traffic. But it’s reasonable, as Thomas suggests, to expect the highways we depend on for our daily commutes to be “passable”.

No one likes parting with their hard-earned cash. But most of us realize that you have to pay for what you use—whether it’s cell phone or cable television service, water, electricity or highways.

And when it comes to tollway construction, maintenance, and rehabilitation, “passable” is only good enough if it means zero compromise on the safety and reliability that users count on and pay for.

So maybe our question this week is: Are we gaining passable momentum for the infrastructure and funding our roads, bridges and tunnels need and our users expect? The answer is getting more hopeful.

 

 

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