The following article appeared on Americans for Transportation Mobility on June 9, 2017.
In the past decade, the Unites States’ surface-transportation system has been affected by a lack of predictable and sustainable funding – and some might argue political courage as well. President Donald Trump and members of Congress were partly elected on a promise to America: improving the nation’s infrastructure.
But long before Trump made it to The White House and the 115th Congress came into power, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) began shaping America’s dialogue about infrastructure investment and broadening the circle of those who care about transportation investment.
One of its recent breakthroughs is the Transportation Investment Advocacy Center (TIAC), which was created in 2014. TIAC is an extension of ARTBA’s “Transportation Makes America Work!”™ program and is supported through outside contributions, sponsorships and ARTBA.
“A number of groups are trying to move the needle on state and local transportation funding and TIAC provides resources that ensure they do not have to start from ground zero,” says Dr. Alison Premo Black, the chief economist for ARTBA who also manages TIAC (transportationinvestment.org).
TIAC represents a sea change. Black points out that what TIAC is also doing is debunking myths through data, analytics and original research.
“For example, there’s a myth out there that state legislators don’t want to increase their state gas tax because they won’t be re-elected or they’ll lose their next election. We’ve actually done the research over the last three years and about 95 percent of legislators who vote for a state gas-tax increase, and stand for re-election, are voted back into office,” explains Black.
She adds: “Another [dispelled] myth is that if you are a Republican, you’re not going to vote for a gas-tax increase. Interestingly, of the eight states that raised their state gas taxes in 2015, seven of those were Republican governors and legislatures. So we know that political party has been absolutely instrumental in raising state and local finances over the last few years for transportation investment.”
There is an exhaustive list of irrefutable statistics and information that proves that America’s infrastructure and transportation network are in desperate need of more than just a reboot. For instance, ARTBA reports there are 55,710 structurally compromised bridges in the United States. That number is based on data from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
A shortfall of federal funding has created a complex situation for local and state governments trying to eke out transportation revenue to ensure monies for projects, from replacing deficient bridges, to upgrading roads. Because of the federal logjam, numerous states have enacted ways of ensuring transportation funding, including raising their state gas taxes and relying on fees.
TIAC is an unprecedented Internet-based educational resource for local and state stakeholders across the nation. It provides webinars, reports, case studies, resources, and news about how region are securing transportation monies. Best practices and lessons learned are presented by those who have used grassroots and local media outreach, lobbying, educational initiatives, partnerships, advertising, earned media, social media and campaigns that highlight critical projects that will receive funding.
TIAC also hosts events, such as the 4th Annual “National Workshop for State & Local Transportation Advocates,” which will be held July 12, 2017, at the Hyatt Regency in Washington, D.C.
TIAC has proven that shoring up public support, interest and cooperation in the business community, and working with legislators are all necessary.
TIAC’s Progress & Role
The FAST Act, the most recent federal bipartisan legislation funding surface transportation, was passed in 2015. But it was not an easy win or a long-term fix.
“I think there is definitely a connection between what’s been going on, at the federal level, and with the inability of Congress for about a decade to solve the Highway Trust Fund situation. Also, these series of short-term extensions really wreaked havoc on the highway, bridge and transportation construction markets,” according to Black. “Then throw the recession into that mix and you can see why state and local governments have really been struggling with how to fund the growing needs of their transportation systems.”
Several years ago, when TIAC was in its infancy, volunteer leaders went through a strategic planning exercise and found there was a gap on the local and state levels on the advocacy side, explains Black. This meant there was a dearth of information that could help the public, local and state elected officials, and businesses and organizations better grow transportation investment. (ARTBA, like many organizations building awareness about the need for transportation investment, traditionally focused its efforts on the federal level.)
Black, too, speaks frankly about the needs this country faces in ways that resonate outside D.C., and that approach is also evident in the webinars (with regional touchstones and experts) and other information TIAC offers. Black can frame what bridge conditions are like in various parts of America as quickly as Trump can hit the tweet button.
Black says that the second part of the initiative, the “Transportation Investment Advocates Council”™ – which is comprised of better roads groups that are networking and sharing best practices – shows that TIAC’s initiatives are useful and convenient. From looking at efforts in various parts of the country, Black says it is clear advocates are taking different elements from campaigns and successfully adapting them in their areas.
TIAC is helping focus on the local and state funding pieces, but Black also notes that all transportation stakeholders and advocates are keenly aware that this represents about half of all investment, and the other half needs to come from the federal government. “The funding gap really comes back with a vengeance after the FAST Act is over,” she reminds.
ARTBA is a member of the Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM) Coalition.