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Educating the Media, Elected Officials and The General Public

Tolling Talking Points – The Importance and Benefits of Tolling


Below are individual talking points you may use when speaking or writing to elected officials, the media or the general public:

Tolling is a smart way to fund and finance the highways, bridges and tunnels that move our economy and get drivers where they want to go. 

At 18.4 cents per gallon, the federal gas tax was last raised in 1993. Since then, it has lost nearly 40 percent of its purchasing power. The gas tax would need to be raised to nearly 30 cents per gallon to give it the purchasing power it had in 1993.

Since 2008, Congress has had to transfer over $143 Million to the Highway Trust Fund just to keep it solvent.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the surplus from these transfers will run out in 2020, after which point the fund will face $20 Million in annual shortfalls.  Meanwhile costs are rising as the highway system ages.

The Interstates will cost nearly $2.5 Trillion to rebuild over the next 50 years; with declining federal dollars, the states will have to pay more than $1.8 trillion, nearly three-fourths of the total investment.

In its 2017 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave bridges an overall grade of C+ and roads a D.

Tolling is a proven, viable funding option. Quick facts about tolling in the U.S. There are.:

  • More than 5,880 miles of toll roads, bridges and tunnels in the U.S.;
  • 331 toll facilities in 35 states;
  • More than 50 Million electronic transponders in the U.S.; and
  • More than 5 Billion trips and transactrions on toll roads and crossings in the U.S.

Most of the more than 62 U.S. toll agency members of IBTTA receive no federal or state funds to support their day-to-day operations – yet, on an annual basis, they generate more than $14 Billion in tolls. That is equal to nearly one-third of the federal gas tax revenues collected each year. Without those toll revenues, states would have to go without the vital road, bridge and tunnel infrastructures that those tolls support, including some of the most heavily traveled highways, bridges and tunnels in the country.

As elected officials across the country explore options to promote long-term transportation ionvestment, we call on Congress to grant states the maximum flexibility to meet their individual transportation funding challenges.  We seek flexibility, not a mandate. Our highway system is incredibly diverse, and it would be unnecessary and wrong for Congress to mandate tolling or any other funding solution for every road in every state and community.

The use of tolls is a central component to this nation’s transportation funding system. Tolls establish a direct connection between the use of the road and payment for that use. For too long, motorists have falsely believed our roads are free. Our highways are not free nor have they ever been. However, it’s easy to see why that misperception persists. There is no direct link between paying the fuel tax and using the roads it funds. Tolling re-establishes that connection.

There are no free roads. There are only toll roads and tax supported roads. A toll is a user fee, not a tax. You only pay for a toll road when you use it. Every road needs maintenance and reconstruction, and that costs money.  No road is ever fully paid for. A road, just like your home, requires ongoing upkeep and maintenance. Tolls provide a sustainable source of revenue for ongoing road maintenance and improvement.

Tolling is an innovative and cost-effective approach to addressing our nation’s transportation infrastructure challenges while providing a safe and reliable option for the traveling public to reach their destinations.

In the old days, you paid a toll by stopping at a toll booth and handing your money to a person or dropping your coins in a basket. Tolling once meant stop; but today high tech tolling means go, go, go.

Meeting with Your Elected Officials:

Prepare in Advance

  • Find out if the elected official has recently been in the media, and for what reason(s). That may tell you something about his or her current priorities and possibility allow you a hook to talk about tolling, infrastructure finance, etc.
  • Do enough research to understand the elected officials’ interests, positions, and voting record on tolling. Has your elected official made a comment on the issue?
  •  If you are there to talk about a specific bill, be sure you know its current legislative status. Has it been introduced? Who supports it? Is it likely to be voted on soon?
  • Anticipate the kinds of questions or concerns that will be raised and have clear answers ready. It’s especially important to anticipate what opponents might say to the same elected official or staff member.
  • Know your message. Have your talking points down cold. Practice making your case clearly and quickly – your elevator speech. You meeting is likely to be short, 10 to 15 minutes. If there are several of you, work out in advance who will speak first and what they will address. Don’t waste people’s time with long or repetitive presentations. Everyone may not be able to speak.
  • Bring supporting materials, perhaps a number of tools in this Kit, to leave behind with the elected official and staff, such as fact sheets or a memo summarizing your positions.
  • Treat staff well, they will be doing the bulk of the work.

Make the Visit Count:

  • Introduce yourself and start on a positive note. Is there a recent vote or public statement you can mention?  Did he or she recently get re-elected, just have a baby or granddaughter?
  • State your position, concerns, or requests clearly and directly. Bolster your facts with personal stories about how the issue affects the state or community.
  • If you don’t understand your elected official’s opinion or the status of the issue, ask for an explanation.
  • If you’re not sure how to answer, say so honestly, promise to get the information quickly, and then be sure to follow through with staff.
  • Leave several copies of your materials and contact information.
  • Be sure to thank the elected official and staff for spending time with you.

Following Up:

  • Be sure to write or call the elected official(s) and staff after your visit to thank them for their time.
  • If they agreed to take any actions, remind and thank them—and offer your assistance if appropriate.
  • If you promised to get them any additional information or answers to questions, do so promptly.
  • Be sure to share any information or insights you gained from the meeting with your board, colleagues and IBTTA if appropriate.
  • Maintain a relationship with people you met with by sending updates on your activities.

Strength in Numbers – Engaging Members and Customers in a Call to Action

  • Generating a large number of letters, calls, emails, or posts on social media directed to an elected official’s office can be an important and effective organizing strategy.   
  • Follow the legislative process carefully to know when key elected official s need to hear from your supporters.
  • Elected officials receive a large volume of communications, especially on controversial issues or legislation. Offices pay attention to the number of calls or other contacts as a way to gauge the intensity of their constituents’ interests.
  • If you have developed a relationship with the elected official over time, this is when it pays off.  To be able to pick up the phone and call her or him.
  • Networking, be smart and think of individual board members, members, vendors and customers who know the key elected officials.
  • Thoughtful, well written individual letters have a greater impact than a form letter or pre-printed postcard. If you’re able to get a number of members or customers to write their own letters explaining why tolling or congestion, etc. is important to them, that message will be heard.
  • You can also gather multiple signatures on a single letter. A sign-on letter can be useful in demonstrating the breadth and diversity of support for your proposal or issue. 
  •  Unless you have a strong personal relationship with your elected official, you aren’t likely to get through on a phone call, but it’s worth asking. If you can’t reach the elected official directly, ask to speak with the staff member who works on transportation issues. If you are calling about a specific piece of legislation, especially if it’s controversial, the person answering the phone may be getting a lot of calls and may simply take your position to tally it one way or the other.         

General Media Tips 101

  • Update your media list/include social media
  • Contact news reporters/editors/producers
  • Identify members/vendors to speak on specific issues, such as safety, maintenance, AET or technology
  • Educate and coach members/vendors to tell their story to the media
  • Monitor local, state and national news on tolling and infrastructure financing to make your own story
  • Write opinion pieces and community news articles to educate the public via the media
  • Have fact sheets and data in hand to back up your message
  • Encourage members to tell their story through social media

Preparing for Television Interviews
  • Before accepting a television interview, study and learn about the reporter and station conducting the interview.
  • Consider each interview request carefully.  Will the interview help or hurt your cause?  Does the reporter or station have a history of supporting tolling or transportation?  Do they have a “gotcha” mentality?  Is the reporter a news reporter or more entertainment news?
  • Once you have agreed to an interview, pick a time that is convenient to you, when you are not rushed and are fully prepared. 
  • Hold a meeting prior to the interview with communications staff.  Watch what stories the reporter has covered in the past to get a sense of his or her style and tone. Flesh out your two or three talking points that you want to deliver and be prepared to stick to them, repeating over and over if necessary. 
  • Be sure you are well groomed for the interview.  You may need a little make up to appear your best on television. No flashy patterns, jewelry, or accessories to distract attention from you and your message.
  • During the interview, keep your answers short. Include only as much detail as you need to answer the question or get your point across.
  • Smile! A huge part of how people take in information from television is visual—what you say may leave less of an impression than how you say it. You want to come across as warm and likeable to the audience watching.
  • Posture and eye contact, if you’re standing and talking to a reporter while being filmed by a cameraman, look at and talk to the reporter. If you’re in a studio being interviewed by someone in another location, look directly into the camera. When seated, don’t lean or slump back in your chair, leaning slightly forward is best.  It will give you much better energy and will look better on camera. Keep hand gestures to a minimum and away from your face.
  • Keep cool if the conversation gets contentious or unpleasant and stick to your message. 
  • Most importantly, don’t ever assume that the camera or microphone is off.

Educating the Media Using Social Media

  • In today’s environment, newspapers are merging and relying more and more on their own websites and blogs.  News is 24/7 and reporters are looking to get their story up and out to their readers quickly.
  • Reporters today are often writing standard news articles, posting blogs online and perhaps even adding a video interview along with the online article.
  • Assess what reporters in your community are covering transportation issues. Don’t be shy to pitch a story idea to them. Make it compelling, timely and provide as much background and information to make it easy on them and chances are good they will want to know more.
  • When you reach out to blogs and bloggers who are associated with mainstream journalism outlets—newspapers or magazines—you should treat them as you would other journalists. Introduce yourself and your organization, encourage them to cover you and consider you a source.
  • Pass along anecdotes, bits of inside information, and other material that might not make it into a straight news story but will help them fill out the blog.
  • Many blogs that are not affiliated with major news organizations also function at least partially as news organizations, producing or compiling links to other news organizations. But they also include a lot of commentary and provide opportunities for you to reach their audiences by posting op-eds or comments. IBTTA has cultivated a relationship with the Huffington Post and regularly submits posts.  Contact the editor to see if you can post a guest blog or become a regular contributor. Reach out to contributors who seem to attract a lot of readers and commenters.
  • Many state capitals and other urban areas have influential blogs covering state and local politics and community issues. Among their readers will be people you are trying to influence: journalists, public officials, and people who work for public officials or government agencies.
  • Add your own comments to relevant posts.  Take the high road and don’t get combative but use facts to support your statements and message.
  • Information above adapted from and inspired by The Leadership Conference Education Fund Grassroots Campaign & Advocacy Toolkit.

Letters to the Editor

The Purpose and Requirements 

  • A letter to the editor (LTE) is a letter sent to a publication about issues of concern from its readers and intended for publication.
  • The purpose of submitting a LTE is most often to either agree or disagree with the position of a news publications editorials and/or news articles.
  • LTE’s can also be submitted to raise and comment on a current issue being debated by a local, regional or national governing body and of importance to the news publication’s community.  Often, the LTE urges elected officials to make a decision based on the LTE’s point of view.
  • LTE’s are addressed to the news publication’s editors, Dear Editor, and between 250-350 words depending on the publications requirements. It can be sent via regular mail or electronically to the news publication’s particular address.

Samples of Letters to the Editors

Below you will find several examples. IBTTA encourages you to draft an LTE based on your own experiences and in your own words. Local, satisfied customers – like the one, below – that are using your roads and facilities make great voices for LTE’s.

Cincinnati Inquirer letter: Tolls a fair way to pay for highway usage

It is my understanding that the federal government provides some funding for construction of interstate highways and that the states provide some funding for road maintenance with some of the money coming from gasoline taxes. Additionally, some states use tolls to help fund road maintenance.

We've paid tolls with cash while traveling on the New York State Thruway (I-90), the Massachusetts Turnpike, and toll roads in New Hampshire and Maine. Toll roads are also common in California and in several other states. Many drivers who travel toll roads on a regular basis have transponders affixed to their vehicles, which are then read electronically as they pass through the toll collection area. These drivers use a prepay system for tolls. This saves time because the drivers typically do not need to stop as they drive through the toll collection area the way cash toll payers do.

It seems that some people don't like the idea of paying a road or bridge toll because they might be used to getting something for nothing. Tolls around here are not something we're used to. If we're driving on these roads, we're contributing to their wear and tear.

As with most goods and services, if we use them, we should pay for them. If we choose not to use them, then we don't pay. This seems fair and simple to me.

Nicky Romes, Mason

Washington Post
The ICC's beneficial technologies

Sunday, February 27, 2011; Page A18

The politicians on hand for the ribbon-cutting to open Maryland's new Intercounty Connector [Metro, Feb. 22] took great pains to pay homage to the people who made this new roadway possible.

I wish that they had also paid homage to two of the most important and innovative features of this new road.

First, it is an all-electronic toll road. This means motorists will not need to slow down or stop to pay their tolls. Motorists will pay tolls electronically as they pass beneath overhead gantries that read E-ZPass tags mounted on their windshields (with video tolling for some motorists). It also means that the ICC will have a continuing revenue stream to support operations, maintenance and future improvements.

Second, the toll road is dynamically priced. This means the level of tolls can be increased based on the time of day (and, ultimately, based on the amount of traffic) to ensure free-flow conditions at all times.

Tolling and dynamic pricing address two of the biggest transportation challenges we face in this country: a chronic lack of funding and increasing congestion. We should praise the courage and foresight of those who insisted on including these two critical features in the ICC.

Patrick D. Jones, Washington, DC

The writer is executive director and chief executive of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.

Chicago Tribune

To the Editor:

You have to admire the sense of humor of John Kass whose Sept. 29 column “Federal freeways paved with gold? Pay up” is an impassioned argument against toll roads.  One reason he opposes toll roads, he says, is that the guy who invented the first toll road, King Ashurbanipal of ancient Assyria, was a “nasty individual.” When you reach back 2,700 years to tarnish a current institution through guilt by association, you’re probably making a preposterous argument.  He is.

Tolling is a simple concept.  Whether King Ashurbanipal was nice or nasty doesn’t negate the fact that we must pay for essential services we take for granted like roads, education and national defense.

The U.S. experiment of using fuel taxes to build and maintain the interstate highway system is a relatively new concept that is showing severe limitations in its ability to sustain itself. Fuel taxes are largely invisible to the driver and this has propagated the belief that “free” roads are either truly free or somehow paid for adequately by governments. Neither belief is true.

The “irritating” truth is that there are no free roads.  While we pay taxes to support most roads, fuel tax revenues don’t even come close to keeping pace with the costs to repair and replace the roadways we depend on. The federal fuel tax has not changed since 1993 and the current political and economic environment means that increasing the federal gas tax is unlikely. So the burden of maintaining and improving roads is falling on cash strapped state governments that confront huge challenges addressing the safety and utility of aging infrastructure. When the states can’t keep up, the burden is passed along to counties and metropolitan governments.

The surge of interest in toll roads is a return to a time-tested and rational concept. If you use a road, you pay for it. The existence of a toll road allows governments to use tax revenues on other desirable public services that can’t support themselves as easily or directly. The other advantage of tolling is that the revenues stay close to home and are invested in the road on which you drive. They aren’t sent to Washington or the state capital where they might get diverted to other purposes.

For many states and localities, the mobility options have boiled down to a “toll road” or “no road.”  This is not “nasty” but sensible.

Patrick D. Jones, Washington, DC

The writer is executive director and chief executive of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.