Anytime you undertake a major public campaign, you're quickly reminded that listening is even more important than speaking.
And since the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) launched its Moving America Forward campaign in January, we've been buoyed by a chorus of articulate, independent voices on the urgency of the transportation funding crisis, and the importance of tolling as one part of the solution.
Really--we couldn't have said it better ourselves.
As the 113th Congress begins its work, here are some of the facts and arguments we've been hearing.
1. The gas tax is not a sustainable source of revenue.
The Congressional Budget Office calculates the annual transportation deficit at $14 billion for routine highway maintenance, plus another $50 billion for annual improvements. The CBO projects the Highway Trust Fund will run dry in FY2015, and gas tax revenue will continue to erode as new federal fuel efficiency standards take effect, but the trend isn't new: In a presentation to IBTTA's Leadership Academy in February, Steve Morello of D'Artagnan Consulting traced a 35-year time span in Oregon in which populations rose, vehicle miles traveled grew much faster than population, but gas tax revenues fell.
2. All-electronic tolling is an efficient way to collect highway revenue.
In a November, 2012 research report, the Reason Foundation showed that collection costs in an all-electronic tolling system are on a par with collecting the gas tax. The study busted the myth--a holdover from the days of toll plazas and cash collections--that tolling is an expensive way to bring in revenue.
3. Tolling has to be an option for any state that wants to fund major transportation projects.
The Ohio River Bridges Project, linking Kentucky with southern Indiana, is about to begin construction. After they go into service in 2016, the two bridges will generate $10 billion in toll revenue over 40 years. "There's not a major bridge project in the country that doesn't involve the use of tolls and other creative financing mechanisms," Kentucky Gov. Steven Beshear told the New York Times in mid-February.
4. Given a choice between tolls and higher taxes, drivers often prefer tolls.
Road users understand the need for new revenue to make our highways safer and our daily commutes more predictable. Citizens often prefer tolling to tax increases, and specific tolling projects win public support when customers and voters can see the tolls they pay reduce congestion on the roads they drive. "Shippers and truckers are all on board to pay a little more, as long as the money goes to where it's needed," Tom Donohue, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee February 13.
Since launching the Moving America Forward campaign, IBTTA has found growing support for tolling as an essential part of the transportation funding toolbox. At a time when public works of all kinds face serious financial pressures, this is one type of infrastructure that has a smart, effective solution ready to roll.
This post first appeared in the Public Works Financing Newsletter blog and is also cross-posted there
Follow Patrick D. Jones on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@IBTTA