In late July, the U.S. Congress took steps to save the Highway Trust Fund from going insolvent by "patching" it and continuing the debate on how to fund it through May of 2015, when our policymakers will once again be faced with the tough decision of how to ensure its long-term effectiveness. Earlier this year, the Obama Administration proposed its plan that includes lifting the decades-old ban on tolling the interstates as part of a larger, comprehensive package to address our long-term transportation challenges. Lifting the ban on interstate tolling for purposes of reconstruction will not directly replenish the Highway Trust Fund, but it will give states the flexibility to use another proven, reliable financing option to help meet their infrastructure funding challenges.
On the heels of these developments, the Administration recently convened some of our nation's best and brightest transportation experts for an Infrastructure Investment Summit, hosted by the U.S Treasury Department and the U.S. Department of Transportation. The summit sought solutions to the funding crisis facing all forms of infrastructure, including highways. Featured speakers included Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.
During the Summit, the Treasury Department released a report, Expanding our Nation's Infrastructure through Innovative Financing, stating:
The economic case for expanding infrastructure investment is clear, yet public investment has been declining as part of a long-term trend toward fiscal consolidation and lower public investment. Innovation in financing, technology, and management can help reverse this decline and speed the modernization of our infrastructure networks.
We in the tolling industry couldn't agree more. Now is the time to incorporate new and innovative ways to fund our nation's transportation infrastructure. All options should be on the table so that states can choose the funding and financing methods that work best for them.
Here are my takeaways from the Administration's Infrastructure Investment Summit:
The Administration is engaged and focused on infrastructure financing solutions.
The clear message from the Departments of Transportation and Treasury is that they are 'open for business' and looking for ways to maximize the use of federal financing programs to stimulate infrastructure investment, with an emphasis on public private partnerships.
Private investors are out there to be mobilized.
A recurring theme throughout the summit was that there is private capital available to invest in infrastructure renewal. If a deal is structured with care and risk is allocated appropriately, that capital will flow.
Tolling is on the Administration's radar.
Transportation Secretary Foxx mentioned tolling in his opening remarks and other speakers used tolling examples to illustrate public-private partnerships that worked.
The sense of urgency is widespread.
Summit participants included representatives of local governments, institutional investors, state and local public works and transportation agencies, pension funds, labor unions, and infrastructure associations. The infrastructure deficit has been accumulating for a generation or more, but the diversity of this gathering pointed to a growing chorus of voices supporting effective, comprehensive solutions.
The tolling industry is at the table.
I was honored to be invited and proud to represent the tolling industry in a gathering of about 100 participants.
Robust infrastructure investment is vital to a strong U.S. economy. The summit was a unique opportunity for the tolling industry to engage with other stakeholders in high-level discussions about how to strengthen infrastructure investment in the U.S.
As the Treasury report points out:
..our nation needs to continually modernize and maintain our infrastructure to make the United States an attractive place for businesses to operate and for people to live. If we fail to provide and maintain adequate infrastructure, the consequences will be severe.
IBTTA looks forward to working with the Administration, Congress and the states. Our message to lawmakers: Give states the flexibility to make their own decisions by giving them the tools, like tolling, to fund their transportation infrastructure projects the best way they see fit. That's a transportation plan that will get America moving again.