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Get to Know IBTTA’s 2018 President, Tim Stewart

Bill Cramer, Communications Director, IBTTA, recently sat down with Tim Stewart to learn a bit more about his background and interests. Tim Stewart is the Executive Director and CEO, E-470 Public Highway Authority.

Q: How did you become interested or begin working in transportation?

My start in transportation was really coincidental, not planned. I was working in construction during a declining market in 1983 and 1984. I was traveling out-of-state for work when an opportunity came up to join the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority in field and building maintenance. I applied, and ended up working in field and building maintenance on the H. E. Bailey Turnpike in October 1984. I thought it would be a transition position until the next construction opportunity came along, but I liked what I was doing and enjoyed learning about road maintenance. One thing led to the next, and 33 years later, I’m still in the same industry and enjoying a whole new mix of opportunities and challenges.

I have been fortunate to see transportation from many perspectives, beginning in field maintenance and working with a host of very smart people in construction, engineering, operations, new toll systems integration, financing, IT and security, and new program and business development. I have been truly blessed to serve as Deputy Director and COO, and now Executive Director and CEO, of two extremely experienced, progressive tolling and transportation organizations.

How long have you been involved with IBTTA?

I attended my first IBTTA event in 1988 to learn more about service plaza and concession facilities in other states and countries. The Oklahoma Turnpike was upgrading its plazas, and I was new to the operations side of the business. I quickly found resources and contacts within the industry who provided me with great ideas that I put into practice as the Oklahoma Turnpike developed. That experience, and the people I met, kept me coming back for more and relying on IBTTA as an indispensable source of information, contacts, industry experience, and friendships.

Please tell us about your theme for the year – Trust and Accountability.

[IBTTA Executive Director and CEO] Pat Jones and I were brainstorming several months ago about the association and its current mission and strategy, and touched on the hesitancy or reluctance in many jurisdictions to embrace tolling. We talked about some of the underlying issues and that some people really don’t understand our industry. They don’t appreciate what tolling brings to the marketplace, what tolling brings to transportation, or the opportunities it creates for economic development, particularly if they have no tolled facilities in their community.

Our industry delivers a good, valuable product. The outcomes for the most part have been favorable, and often very positive, for communities that have used and experienced tolls. Where people still have reservations, their concerns often lead back to trust and accountability.

First, people have to trust what we do in the tolling industry. It’s taking time for customers and communities to understand that we offer a dependable, viable solution to meet demand for transportation and economic growth. Each one of us in in our roles to support the industry can help communicate the benefits of tolling, transportation, and enhanced mobility.

That trust leads into accountability. If you trust someone to do something, they have to deliver. If we don’t deliver, we jeopardize the trust people place in us. So, we build trust by what we do, we hold ourselves accountable for what we promise to do, and we invite others to hold us accountable, as well. That’s the bedrock of what we do and who we are as an industry. We deliver on our promises.

That’s exactly what IBTTA has been doing through its Moving America Forward campaign: Communicating with elected officials at all levels of government, and educating public policy-makers, the media, and the general public about the benefits of tolling and our successes in delivering the services people need and expect.

What do you see as the two or three biggest opportunities or challenges facing surface transportation today?

The most immediate challenge, not a new one but something we’ve been facing for many years, is funding.

The continued decline in buying power due to limited or no increases in new revenues for surface transportation can only lead to damaging if not potentially catastrophic results over the longer term. You can only kick the can for so long, before there is little can left to kick.

The decisions facing all policy-makers are enormous, but those decisions must still be made. But with this huge challenge, in my opinion, comes great opportunity. President Trump’s statements about private equity investment, states facing the challenge with new tax increases, and added revenues through managed lanes and new tolled facilities are all examples of current funding options that are often considered separately, not as an integrated package. Now more than ever, all options and combinations of options involving local, state, and federal funding must be fully explored and advanced. We should look at highway funding successes around the world, understand why they were successful, and see if they can be adapted to address the problems we face. That’s where IBTTA can play a crucial role as a convener for these ideas, practices, and solutions.

Our industry should continue to advocate for sensible reductions in regulatory impediments to progress. That definitely doesn’t mean throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It does mean identifying ways to streamline regulatory reviews that often result in significant cost increases with limited benefit. As an industry, we should determine ways to cross those regulatory barriers with collaboration for betterment, not feeding ongoing opposition to legitimate and much-needed change.

IBTTA must also develop strategies to maintain and enhance the capabilities we have, while looking to the future for technological advances. We’re all dealing with the ever-demanding needs of aging infrastructure. We can’t ignore those demands, or they will consume and overwhelm us. But we can address them better through thoughtful, innovative collaboration, we can develop and implement enhanced ways to better address current demands. That includes planning for a future that includes autonomous and connected vehicles, surface-to-transit to rail opportunities, and a series of other innovations. If we don’t, our replacements will.

Finally, leading IBTTA this year, it will be important that we be civil and respect one another. We each approach the job with different points of views and demands. Let’s face it—people are tired of the rhetoric and looking for real solutions to difficult problems that will improve their way of life. As transportation professionals, our job is to serve the best interests of all with passion and consideration. Without that human link, people won’t want to listen to what we have to say.

How is IBTTA building practical solutions on these issues?

One of IBTTA’s strategic goals is to be an indispensable source for and convener of information on tolling solutions and opportunities in transportation. Through Moving America Forward, I see the needle slowing moving in a positive direction on tolling and user-financed transportation. But there’s more work ahead of us, and we must continue to reach out to various audiences and deliver a consistent message.

We’ll get it done through the collective efforts of all IBTTA members, supporters, and staff—together, we can send a powerful message. I encourage everyone to join the team to help IBTTA with this important outreach effort by attending IBTTA’s legislative fly-in in Washington, DC February 7-8. Our Government Affairs Task Force Chair, Mark Compton of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, is leading this effort as we take our message to the U.S. Congress.

I applaud the decision by Emanuela Stocchi, our Immediate Past President, to reconstitute the Task Force. We’re already seeing positive results, with the development of talking points and outreach to key contacts in Congress and the Administration to tell our story on the Hill. Continued work and collaboration in this important endeavor will go a long way to advancing IBTTA’s mission and strategies.

Every member should also be proud of IBTTA’s growing international connections. Klaus Schierhackl, Jordi Graells, and Ema have all been fantastic ambassadors for tolling and IBTTA in other countries, developing new contacts, resources, and knowledge around the world that contribute to IBTTA’s overall mission as a collector and convener for tolling and transportation around the world.

Another opportunity for our association is to identify and continue shining a light on the industry’s successes in delivering efficient, effective, safe, and reliable transportation solutions. Sharing those successes and lessons learned at conferences, webinars, and other venues through the year is one of the greatest benefits IBTTA brings back to the industry, and to the many millions of customers who depend on us.

Finally, building on the effort that began with Past President Buddy Croft, we must continue reaching out to like-minded and at times differing individuals, groups, associations, and industries to develop relationships and coalitions around issues of common interest. We all have to speak with one voice to support viable solutions to the transportation challenges we all face.

What is your favorite food, book, movie, music, or way to spend your free time?

I haven’t found too many foods I don’t like. It’s more a matter of not consuming more than I really need in one sitting. But some favorites stand out: some good barbeque ribs (boneless preferred), baked beans and baked potatoes with all the fixings, and to satisfy Tina for my health, a good side salad or green beans. Following that up with a good peach cobbler topped with ice cream would be just perfect for me.

Growing up in a somewhat musical family, I have listened to, played, and sung all kinds of music. My playlist includes some classic rock and roll, country, blues, and contemporary Christian, with some occasional jazz and classical. In a college humanity course, I studied music from around the world, and it was one of my favorite classes.

I love to explore the great outdoors. I enjoy camping, hiking, skiing, rafting, hunting, fishing, golfing, whatever gives me a chance to see nature and new places. Since moving to Colorado, I love exploring Rocky Mountain National Park and taking photos of the wildlife, we encounter on those trips, including moose, elk, mule deer, and mountain sheep.