In the coming weeks and months, anyone who relies on America's highways to commute to work, travel long distances, or ship and receive goods will see the benefit of a campaign to fix our broken method of funding transportation infrastructure.
The Moving America Forward campaign, launched in early January by the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA), is built on a simple principle at the heart of transportation funding: In a true user fee financing system, drivers get to see the benefits they receive for the fees they pay.
Every vehicle produces some wear and tear on our roads, heavy trucks more than sub-compact cars. So it makes sense to fund the construction and maintenance of those roads with some form of user fee. The gas tax fits that description, but its value has declined over the years: governments are reluctant to raise taxes to meet rising costs in a sluggish economy, and the tax itself will continue to erode as vehicle manufacturers embrace fuel efficiency and sell more electric or alternative fuel vehicles.
The result: A multi-billion dollar infrastructure deficit, leading to congested, crumbling highways that waste drivers' time and put their safety at risk.
Moving America Forward is drawing attention to highway tolls as one of the options in the toolbox for funding the next generation of highway infrastructure. Toll authorities already operate more than 5,000 miles of tolled lanes in 35 U.S. states and territories, and local communities see benefits that rarely make their way into Beltway policy discussions:
• Toll roads are the crucial ingredient that gets many millions of highway commuters to work in a reasonable amount of time, then home in time to collect kids from day care.
• Toll agencies regularly hear about businesses that choose to locate near a tolled highway, bringing jobs and tax revenue to the surrounding community.
That's why tolling is such a big winner once communities have had a chance to weigh the pros and cons. In the Chicagoland area, 86 percent of the people who participated in a series of public consultations supported an 87 percent toll increase to fund a 15-year, $12-billion highway infrastructure program. The New Jersey Turnpike Authority earned public support for a 50 percent toll increase, largely because users could see the work that was being done on the roads their tolls supported.
The groundwork for the tolling industry's Moving America Forward campaign has been taking shape for several months. We're determined to deliver on our part of the solution to what Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), Chairman of the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, refers to as transportation's "own version of a fiscal cliff".
Through 2013 and beyond, Moving America Forward will set out a strong and consistent message, educating the media, policymakers, and the public on the important and cost-effective role of user financing in supporting safe, reliable highway infrastructure. Robert Poole, co-founder of the Washington, DC-based Reason Foundation, had this to say when the campaign launched:
"It's about time policy-makers at all levels of government took a serious look at tolling as an effective alternative to traditional funding options. And with weak public and political support for raising any tax in this struggling economy, tolling continues to stand out as the way to go."
Tolling agencies also know that resilience is more than just financial. The day of the Moving America Forward launch, IBTTA hosted A Forum on Super Storm Sandy: Resilience and Adaptation, during which tolling leaders from New York, New Jersey, and Florida talked about the lessons they'd learned from major weather disasters. A toll road can be a community lifeline in an emergency, and toll operators are ready and eager to help policy-makers develop best practices in emergency preparedness and management.
Highway funding issues will be with us for the foreseeable future, and severe events like Hurricane Sandy are putting a different kind of spotlight on our roadways. Our campaign is built on highlighting the benefits of innovative ways to address our country's surface transportation infrastructure challenges. The sooner we embrace tolling as a proven part of the solution to this crisis, the sooner we'll all see the benefit.