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The State of the Union... and our Highways

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"A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs -- that must be the North Star that guides our efforts."

U.S. President Barack Obama
State of the Union Address
February 12, 2013

President Barack Obama outlined a bold and ambitious agenda during his State of the Union address. He acknowledged the urgency of an "aging infrastructure badly in need of repair" and set economic goals that ultimately depend on a sound, efficient highway system. While the State of the Union is traditionally broad and sweeping in its scope, here are some very specific numbers for Congress and the White House to keep in mind as they consider the future of America's infrastructure:

• $121 billion: The value the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) attaches to the time and fuel commuters wasted on congested roads in 2011.
• 5.5 billion: The extra hours Americans spent in their cars in 2011, according to TTI.
• $14 billion: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO)'s estimate of the annual transportation maintenance funding gap.
• $50 billion: The CBO's figure for the additional funds required for annual highway improvements.
• $365.5 billion: The accumulated deficit the CBO foresees for the Highway Trust Fund over the next 23 years if today's trends continue.

These numbers tell an urgent and compelling story. But they also point to some deeper truths that Congress and the president should consider in the run-up to the next surface transportation authorization.

• Well-funded infrastructure -- roads, rails, ports, rivers, and transit--are a critical foundation for economic growth.
• Numerous studies from the American Society of Civil Engineers and many others attest that the U.S. receives failing or barely passing grades for its scant investment in transportation infrastructure.
• Historically low interest rates, high unemployment in the construction sector, and lower than normal private sector investment in housing and other infrastructure offer a rare opportunity for governments -- federal, state and local -- to step up their investment in infrastructure without the risk of choking off private investment. As the Washington Post recently asked, "Is Congress really going to miss its free lunch on infrastructure?"
• All infrastructure requires maintenance, repair, and refurbishment once it's built. If you own a home that's more than 20 years old, you know what I'm talking about.

Tolling generates needed revenue to support highway construction and maintenance, while easing the financial burden on federal and state governments. By delivering a dependable, sustainable revenue stream to support essential highway construction, maintenance and operations, the tolling industry is Moving America Forward to address the transportation crisis in a serious way. It's an important conversation that we must start having now.

This piece is cross-posted on IBTTA's blog, Tolling Points