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America’s Infrastructure Needs a Mix of Funding Solutions That Work

Posted by Infra on Wednesday, May 17th, 2017

By Kevin Hoeflich and Patrick Jones

Interstate 10 - Papago Freeway Tunnel / Deck Park Tunnel at Night (3) by Alan StarkAs the United States continues to try and solve our looming infrastructure crisis, now is the time for us to advance proven funding solutions that will deliver the safe, reliable roadways that Americans need and deserve.

When safe and efficient infrastructure is what everybody clearly wants, this shouldn’t be controversial. From the halls of power in Washington, DC to congested local roads and interstate highways across the country, a consensus is emerging: It’s time to invest in rebuilding America’s vital infrastructure.

From Intention to Action

The good news is the flurry of recent attention by President Trump and a group of bipartisan members of Congress to the country’s infrastructure investment needs.

The 2017 infrastructure report card from the American Society of Civil Engineers shines a bright light on the problem, giving the country’s roads a D grade and its bridges a C+.  “More than two out of every five miles of America’s urban interstates are congested and traffic delays cost the country $160 billion in wasted time and fuel in 2014,” ASCE reported.

But funding measures to meet these infrastructure needs have been spotty.  While more than 20 states have increased their gas taxes since 2013, Congress hasn’t increased the federal fuel tax since 1993. Both the White House and Senate Democrats have unveiled proposals to increase infrastructure spending by $1 trillion over the next 10 years.  But translating those proposals into law has been a challenge.

Voters Want This Done

Polling by HNTB Corporation shows that American voters want better roadways:

  • 92% think it’s very or extremely important to maintain highways and bridges, improve traffic safety, and reduce congestion.
  • 85% believe congestion contributes to traffic deaths.
  • 61% see congestion relief and safety as top priorities in surface transportation.
  • Only 35% consider their local highways and bridges very or extremely safe.

The HNTB poll’s combined focus on congestion and safety points to tolling and other user fees as an essential infrastructure funding tool.

When drivers pay for the roads they use, it’s a practical, fair way to cover the cost of maintaining our highways, and rebuilding or expanding them when necessary.

And when priced managed lanes – tolled lanes where the price of the toll rises and falls depending on the congestion in those lanes – exist alongside general purpose lanes, everybody wins. You use the tolled lane when the regular road is crowded and you absolutely have to get where you’re going on time. Priced managed lanes offer a reliable, predictable trip. With a share of the traffic shifted from the general purpose lanes to the tolled lanes or priced managed lanes, everyone faces less congestion on their daily commute and gets a better ride.

Getting from Here to There

Infrastructure Week is a good time to recognize the progress we’re already making. With uncertainty about any future increase in federal funding for highways, more and more states are turning to tolling as one practical funding solution.

Connecticut is considering whether to reintroduce tolls after a 30-year absence, part of an effort to clear a stubborn transportation budget shortfall. Rhode Island took the bold step last year of passing legislation to toll heavy trucks on 14 bridges in the state for the purpose of reconstructing those bridges. And, other states are looking at solutions that are tailored to specific circumstances. Maine, faced with a large volume of out-of-state traffic, opted for a mix of electronic and cash tolling. Oregon has put years of meticulous design into a road usage charging pilot project that offers drivers a choice of methods to pay by mile for their highway driving, in lieu of state gas tax.

These and other front-line efforts point to three key ingredients of a successful infrastructure funding plan for highways: state-level involvement, consumer choice, and good public education programs that allows drivers to get comfortable with new payment mechanisms.

As we celebrate Infrastructure Week, there’s no better time to plan responsive local programs that give citizens the services they need, while keeping them informed and engaged every step of the way.

 …

Kevin Hoeflich, PE, is National Chair of Toll Services for HNTB Corporation. Patrick Jones is Executive Director and CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.

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