It’s 2017. We Can Do This. Let’s Do It!

Posted by Infra on Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Originally posted on the blog of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA)

Written by Bill Cramer, Communications Director, IBTTA

IBTTA: It's 2017 - we can DO this!As New Year’s resolutions go, it’s about as sharp and focused as you could ever hope for. In a presentation, late last year to a special committee of the U.S. Transportation Research Board (TRB), IBTTA Executive Director and CEO Pat Jones closed with these words:

We can do this. Let’s do it.

It’s hard to imagine a simpler, more essential call to action for a new year, a new Administration, new Congress, and what could be shaping up as a new era for tolling in America and possibly around the world.

As always, context matters. The committee Jones was addressing was the funding and financing panel of TRB’s Committee for a Study of the Future Interstate Highway System. The setting was the headquarters of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC. The timing was just five days before Christmas.

It was a moment of opportunity. And Jones seized that moment to advance one of IBTTA’s longest-held policy priorities.

“If you remember nothing else about what I say today, I want you to remember this,” he told committee members.

Tell the Congress of the United States to lift the prohibition on tolling interstate highways for the purposes of reconstruction. Give the states the ability to toll their Interstate highways specifically for rebuilding those Interstate highways. Let them have access to one more tool in the toolbox. This is not a mandate; no state would be required to toll their interstates. This simply gives states the flexibility to choose the option to use tolls if it makes sense to the individual state.

Short Presentation, Long History

In his short presentation, about 30 minutes, Jones traced the history of tolling back to the year 1656 in the United States, and to the 7th Century BC in what is now Iran and Iraq. “When we talk about ‘traditional’ methods of highway funding and finance, nothing is more traditional than a toll road,” he told committee members.

“The biggest difference, of course, between the toll roads of antiquity and those of today is technology. The introduction of electronic toll collection means that people no longer need to stop and wait to pay the toll. As your vehicle passes under a gantry, you pay your toll without stopping—often at highway speeds—using a transponder associated with your account.”

From there, Jones traced the history of tolling and highway funding in the United States—from the opening of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1940, to the development of the first, traditional turnpikes, to more recent, severe shortfalls in the federal Highway Trust Fund and the political resistance to raising gas tax revenues.

Making the Case for Tolling: We All Play a Part

The committee would have needed a week of testimony to get through the mountain of evidence for user-financed transportation. (Fortunately…well, did we mention they were meeting five days before Christmas?) Jones gave the panel an overview of the TRB studies and blue-ribbon panels that have grappled with the infrastructure funding crisis, and summarized the main arguments for allowing states to decide whether to expand their reliance on toll revenue.

The TRB committee hearing would have been useful and timely whenever it convened. Taking place exactly a month before a new Administration begins its first 100 days, the session took on even greater importance.

In the weeks and months ahead, IBTTA’s volunteer leadership and headquarters staff will be working hard to present the industry’s case to a new team of Administration officials. But we can’t do it alone.

If you download Pat Jones’ presentation, you can use it as a reference point and a leave-behind for meetings with your own Congressional representatives. There’s a possibility that 2017 will be a breakthrough year for tolling, but the last chapters of that story have yet to be written. The first step in putting our own metaphorical pens to paper is to remember Pat Jones’ closing words:

We can do this. Let’s do it.

Visit IBTTA’s website for a full copy of Pat Jones’ presentation to the funding and financing panel of the TRB’s Committee for a Study of the Future Interstate Highway System. And mark your calendar now for IBTTA’s 2017 Summit on Finance, Policy, VMT, April 23-25, 2017 in Jersey City, NJ.

IBTTA – Tolling Points

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