Roundtable



Local Funding, Big Benefits

Roundtable features senior practitioners engaging in open discussion on the most pertinent issues facing the infrastructure industry both today and tomorrow. This edition features perspectives on the mechanisms for generating funding for infrastructure projects at the local level. Topics discussed include regional taxing, public private partnerships, value capture, tolling, and congestion pricing. 

Rolando Amaya (RA): Consider Measure R in Los Angeles (Box 1), the Georgia Transportation Investment Act (Box 2), the Chicago Infrastructure Trust (Box 3), and the potential joint financing authority for California, Oregon, and Washington infrastructure projects that is currently being investigated (Box 4). It would appear that cities and/or regions are increasingly finding innovative ways to raise local capital to meet their infrastructure needs. What is driving the need to develop these innovative funding tools? Is this a temporary ‘fix’ in tough economic times, or the new way to fund projects?

Jim Durrett (JD): Transportation funding is related to gas taxes just about everywhere in the US. We are coming to the understanding that gas taxes are an unsustainable way of funding transportation infrastructure. That is driving the need for innovations in funding. In many places in this country, gasoline taxes are not allowed to be used to fund modes of transportation other than roads and bridges. That is the case here in Georgia. Also, increased fuel efficiency is leading to a decreased supply of resources to pay for the infrastructure. This efficiency is not lessening the stress that is placed on the existing infrastructure, and as a result the coffers are running dry at state Departments of Transportation (DOT). They are definitely running dry at the federal government level, and local governments are struggling to make ends meet. As a result, we’re scrambling to find a new funding model.

Jeff Morales (JM): I agree. It’s a fundamental and a long-term, if not permanent, shift. To date, we have seen it more in the West, but it is moving East. The Georgia example will get a lot of attention if it is successful. Our experience in California, Arizona, and Washington state tells us that the case for making investmentsis more easily made on a local level than on a federal level. That is driving this. We’ve seen much success with local measures in California, where 81 percent of the state’s population lives in counties that have sales tax measures that fund transportation. In most of the state’s major transportation programs over the past 20 years, the federal/state/local funding roles have flipped to the point that local monies are now generating the majority of funding that is going into these programs. Collectively, there is almost $150 billion worth of investments being made in the state through county sales tax measures. This is serving to fill the gap resulting from diminishing federal funding.

Jared Smith (JS): I agree that it is a permanent shift that we will rely more on local and regional solutions. The gas tax is no longer a viable long-term single revenue source, so we need new, additional sources. States like Washington are looking at more comprehensive tolling solutions or some type of vehicle mile traveled approach as part of a ‘user fee’ based strategy. There has been a push in this last state legislative cycle to try to come up with a way to also tax hybrid of all-electric vehicles so they pay their fair share as highway users.

Also, as the federal government devolves its funding commitment, the infrastructure funding burden is increasingly shifting to the states. Within each state, and in particular here in Washington, and to some extent in Oregon, we are trying to address regionalized needs that require statewide votes to be funded. This has lead to an abundance of anti-tax citizen initiatives. In the state of Washington, to pass any new major tax at the state level requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature, which can be an insurmountable threshold, especially when the needs are regionalized. This results in a ‘perfect storm’ for the state. To get a statewide vote to pass, the state must appeal to both urban and rural voters. To

appeal to urban voters, they need transit sprinkled into the package, but that may be a regionalized need not widely supported outside the urban areas. We’re left with a standoff between the urbanized regions and the rest of the state. We’re beginning to acknowledge that we must shift to a local focus on revenue sources for our regionalized needs. Thus the push towards county-wide or city-wide votes, or maybe multiple county-wide votes.

 

 

RA: As a former MARTA Board Chairman and current Board member and Executive Director of the Buckhead community Improvement District, Jim Durrett has a very unique perspective on the Atlanta Regional Transportation Referendum. Acknowledging that the referendum will not be voted on until July 31, 2012, Jim, can you please provide us with some background on the Act and discuss any challenges and lessons learned you’ve experienced to this point? What advice would you offer other regions interested in advancing a similar local tax program?

JD: As the state’s major urban area, Atlanta, Georgia has special infrastructure needs. Therefore, various business and civic groups have been lobbying the state legislature for several years to pass a law that would allow the Atlanta region to address its needs by taxing itself.

In 2010, this multi-year lobbying effort led the state legislature to pass House Bill 277, which was signed into law and became the Transportation Investment Act (TIA) of 2010. TIA divided the state into 12 regions and established criteria allowing each region the opportunity to tax itself to fund specific projects.

Each of the 12 regions was required to form what we called a ‘Regional Roundtable.’ In the 10-county Atlanta region, the Regional Roundtable consisted of 21 members: 10 county commission chairmen/CEOs, 10 mayors of jurisdictions within those 10 counties, and the mayor of Atlanta, the state’s capital city.

The 21 members on the Regional Roundtable worked with economists, who estimated that a one percent sales tax could raise approximately $8.5 billion in this region over a 10-year period, which is the sunset period for this proposed sales tax. Knowing that they would have approximately $8.5 billion to work with, which is something like $7.2 billion in 2011 dollars, their job was to come up with a program of projects that would fit within their budget. When they compiled all of our needs, and what the jurisdictions had proposed as worthy of consideration, the demand far outstripped the supply. When you also consider that 15 percent of the funds collected would be allocated to every city and county in the region for local projects to be selected by those jurisdictions, that left them with the difficult job of taking many tens of billions of dollars in requests from the region and reducing them down to fit an approximately $6.2 billion budget over the 10-year period.

A major challenge that they faced in selecting the projects is that, this region is not homogenous. Getting a region that includes urban, suburban and rural jurisdictions to agree on a particular path forward requires a great deal of education and work to help the voters in the region to understand exactly what they’re working toward and why it’s important.

Ultimately they came up with a list of projects that they thought would not only be politically supported but would also move the needle on the region’s transportation needs. It is multi-modal in nature and includes roads, bridges, transit, airport, bicycling, and pedestrian improvements. Currently, our focus is on going out and really explaining what this is all about to the voters who will be deciding this on July 31, 2012.

JS: We’ve had some experience with this type of program in Washington state. In 2002, and after many years of debate, we put out a statewide ballot called Referendum 51, which would have raised $7.9 billion for road and transit improvements through a nine cent gas tax increase and other fees. It was defeated by a margin of 61.6 percent. The legislature eventually passed major tax increases in 2003 and again in 2005, which resulted in a $15 billion program.

Now, we are looking much harder at regionalized packages. We’ve had success with regional votes in the past. Sound Transit passed major three-county transit packages in 1996 and again in 2008. They adopted what they call a ‘sub area equity’ policy which says that the revenues generated in a sub area go to benefit that sub area. They decide within that sub area the projects that best meet their needs while fitting within the regional system.

RA: What about public-private partnerships (P3)? In Chicago we’ve seen the Chicago Infrastructure Trust which offers an alternative means to public financing. What are your thoughts on this unique funding alternative? Overall, what role do you see the private sector playing in the funding of future infrastructure projects?

JS: With regard to P3, in Washington state we are coming full circle. Back in the early 1990s there was a push to explore P3 to deliver statewide transportation infrastructure needs and there was a unanimous vote in the legislature to advance the program. Proposals were assembled the following year and accepted by the state. Then over the next one to two years, all but one of the proposals were halted by the legislature. Even that project, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, evolved into a design-build because there was concern about private sector interests acting as the developer of the facility.

Last year, the legislature did a study revisiting P3 options. My prediction is that we will see some form of P3s advancing forward in the Northwest.

JM: I think over the long run, we’re moving to a greater balance between public and private sector infrastructure funding. I don’t think that we will ever see the US relying on private involvement as much as in other countries. The US has too much institutional structure around public investment to do that.

I think alternative means of public financing, like the Chicago Infrastructure Trust, will become a bigger part of the funding pie, but they are not going to be the predominant mode of delivering improvements. The reason these things are being looked at and implemented more widely is simply necessity. The more difficult it becomes to do things the traditional way, while needs continue to grow, the more willingness there is to look at things that otherwise wouldn’t have been on the table.

That’s what we’re starting to see more around the country. People are exploring ideas and are open to doing things because the traditional alternatives simply aren’t there. There have always been funding gaps for needs. But up until very recently, the federal program served as the basis for state and local programs and was always there to cover funding gaps, to an extent. People could always point to it as the source. Thus there wasn’t as much necessity to look at alternatives. As the federal money is drying up, it is forcing us to explore new ideas.

JD: One thing that I’m interested in keeping an eye on is the concept of private sector value capture as a result of public sector infrastructure investment. In Washington, DC, a good portion of the Metrorail extension that is going out toward Dulles Airport is being funded by the private sector entities who own the real estate that’s proximal to the transit station areas.

Understanding that their property values and their chance of success is greatly enhanced by this investment, they’re willing to put some of that upside back into the infrastructure project that’s driving that increased value. That’s a very interesting way to leverage private funds.

JS: Where you can define a clear nexus between the public necessity and private interests, there is a better path toward P3 partnerships. In Seattle, the South Lake Union Streetcar was viewed by the private sector property owners as a way of connecting their housing and office developments to the regional transit system. A local improvement district was created and passed nearly unanimously. The result was 50 percent of the capital infrastructure investment being made by the adjacent property owners and ongoing sponsorship of the transit facility by adjacent tenants and property owners.

Amazon.com has moved their corporate headquarters to the streetcar corridor and recently announced their sixth and seventh tower that will house their employees.

JM: One of the interesting things that P3 as a delivery mechanism is bringing is a clearer sense of the importance of lifecycle costs into investments. We’ve seen that recently on a project we’re involved in San Francisco, the Presidio

Parkway replacement, which is the highway that leads into San Francisco from the Golden Gate Bridge. It started as a traditional design-bid-build project and it’s moving to P3 delivery for the second portion of it.

A strong part of the argument for doing it was looking at the value of the investment and the cost of maintaining that investment over the lifecycle. Capturing all of that in a deal upfront is in stark contrast to the way things are typically done, which disconnects the lifecycle costs from the upfront capital costs.

This is something that will prompt public agencies to more carefully consider the true lifecycle costs of these investments. That will lead to greater receptivity to private investment and into alternative ways of delivering these projects.

JD: Jared, you mentioned an improvement district being formed out there in the South Lake Union area to advance the streetcar expansion. I think it’s a really good model for funding infrastructure and leveraging the funds that you invest with other funds. I run a community improvement district here in Atlanta that is in its 13th year of operation. Over the first 12 years we have invested or obligated $36 million in taxes that we have collected. That $36 million has attracted an additional $90 million from other sources. That’s a pretty powerful statement about the return on the investment for these mechanisms. Not to mention the benefit that accrues to the area because of the infrastructure and programs that are put in place.

It’s a model that should be replicated elsewhere because it is a vehicle for taxation that gets pumped right back in to the area from which it has been collected for a very specific and well known purpose. The transparency is excellent. The cause and the effect can be well documented, and the return can be measured.

JM: There’s a common theme in a lot of this and it’s a word that Jared introduced: nexus. It is the driving force behind the example that Jim just used, and if you look back 50 plus years, transportation throughout the country was largely driven by the federal program to build the interstate system. That’s why the federal gas tax was enacted and that’s what drove the federal agenda.

Initially, all of the federal money flowing to the states represented a clear nexus between paying gas taxes and building the interstate. As construction of the interstate system came to a conclusion, the clear connection between paying something at the gas pump and seeing a benefit is much harder to quantify and understand.

What we’re seeing at the regional level, whether through local sales taxes or P3 or other funding mechanisms, is the identification of local needs and the realization by locals that if they raise their money locally, they’ll see clear benefits.

That’s the pitch and it works. In spite of all the anti-tax sentiment around the country and the difficult economy, in 2010, 77 percent of all the local measures that were on ballots around the country for transportation succeeded. I think that the reason they did is because there is a nexus. There’s a nexus in terms of you pay and you know what you’re going to get for it. There’s much more direct accountability for the people who are being trusted with those dollars as opposed to sending your money off to the federal government and it coming back to you in a nontransparent manner.

JS: Infrastructure investment historically has been bipartisan and what we are seeing more and more is that investment in infrastructure is caught up in partisan politics. That being said, I think the need for jobs will eventually trump even partisan politics.

Infrastructure funding for transportation has multiple benefits. Initially, there is the benefit of direct investment in jobs for planners, designers, architects, and eventual construction jobs. Next there is the benefit of keeping regions competitive. For us in the Northwest that means providing facilities that connect companies like Boeing and Microsoft to their markets, and provide safe and reliable commutes for employees. Lastly, these investments provide a lasting legacy for our children just as our parents’ generation provided for us.

JD: I’m going to play off a couple of things that each of you has said. Jeff, you indicated that gas taxes go to the federal government and one doesn’t really know how they’re being spent. You can’t see the direct benefit from the taxes that you’re paying at the pump. Jared, you mentioned the importance of these investments to the economy and job growth.

When my neighbors in DeKalb County go to the polls on July 31st, they’re going to look at ballot language that will say this: ‘Shall DeKalb County’s transportation system and the transportation network in this region and the state be improved by providing for a one percent special district transportation sales and use tax for the purpose of transportation projects and programs for a period of 10 years?’

It has the word ‘tax’ in it and if I didn’t really understand what this was about, I’d think, ‘I don’t know what that tax gets me, I’m not voting for it.’

That’s why it’s so important, and why we are spending so much time, energy and other resources, making sure that the citizens, the voters in this region, understand what this question means. It’s imperative to have an informed electorate to make a good decision.

JM: There are some good lessons learned out there. In California, specifically, there are 20 plus years of experience with these measures. They’ve evolved over time. The current prescription for getting them passed—and they are  overwhelmingly passing whenever they’re put on the ballot—is to be very specific as to what you will get if you vote for this.

Be specific down to a list of projects on the ballot itself. This creates that nexus that people understand. They know that they’re going to pay an extra half-cent of sales tax and here is what they’re getting for it. They’re getting very carefully crafted packages that are not left to that openended interpretation that Jim just talked about. The specific message is delivered much more directly to people: are you willing to pay this to get that in return?

RA: You all have experience working with regional tax ballot measures. Can you offer lessons learned based on your experience? In hindsight, what would you do differently?

JS: As we craft packages we must demonstrate clear accountability on top of a carefully defined plan. To sell it to the voters you need more sophistication in the messaging and how you go about garnering the needed votes. There is a need for professionals to help the proponents think through these issues and conduct polling to identify and target the messages to likely voters.

JD: That’s the exact approach that’s being taken here in the Atlanta region and rest of the state. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce has taken the lead in working on the other 11 regions in the state. We are approaching this as a very technical, scientific campaign to understand what people want. We are identifying the likely voters to craft the message specifically to the different demographics that have been identified. This is extremely important especially in a big, nonhomogenous, regional vote.

JM: At the other end of the process is a very key element: delivering the benefits as soon as you get the vote. Typically these measures have a very tight restriction on how much of the money raised can be used for administration and implementation of the program. For instance, consider a county initiative. Now the county is collecting this money and is responsible for delivering. Unfortunately, it does not have the internal infrastructure to deliver a program like this, so it is dependent upon others to help deliver the benefits. That leads to the county looking to some combination of private sector aid and the state for help in delivering the program. This situation is currently creating significant tensions in many places where state DOTs are not able to do the same job they may have been able to do years ago because of budget cuts. Yet these counties are relying on them to deliver. Thus you must have a plan for not only getting the initiative passed, but then being able to deliver the promised program.

JS: To underscore what you just said, Jeff, the intent should be to under-promise and over-deliver. With that approach, you build credibility over time. One of the criticisms of transportation projects in the past is that we have proposed investments with less than even one percent design. There is a history of advancing programs that end up costing more than originally conceived. We are now seeing more upfront planning, design and cost estimating. We’re seeing much more sophisticated probabilistic cost estimating methodologies being used to try to capture what the true cost will be. There has been more emphasis on keeping the voters’ hard-earned confidence and being more transparent. Owners are becoming more aware that, in the long term, you need to focus on your credibility. Being very transparent is a key part of that effort.

One of the challenges is that, as you try to allow for cost contingencies, you tend to have programs that are larger than they really need to be, or you end up getting caught in a Catch-22 situation of having less program scope because you’re trying to be overly conservative. You have to strike a balance as you move the program forward.

RA: In general, these programs appear to be focused on large-scale, new capital projects. What about state of good repair and preventative maintenance? Are you seeing taxes being implemented solely for the purpose of state of good repair? If so, what message would you want to craft for that?

JD: In the state of Georgia, there are a great number of state of good repair projects. In the Atlanta region, there is approximately $600 million in the program set aside for state of good repair projects for MARTA. There is absolutely a recognition that we can’t continue to expand without making sure that the house that we’ve already built is in good shape.

JS: That’s a huge issue everywhere. It’s much easier for the public to rally around a new capital project versus keeping our current infrastructure assets maintained It’s a ticking time bomb as the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Report Card for America’s Infrastructure underscores each year. 

There have been some successes, however, and I believe that the voters are a bit more sophisticated than they are given credit for. Consider your own house. You don’t add a new bathroom or remodel your kitchen while letting your roof fall into a state of disrepair. We are behind in getting that message out and the catch-up that we need to do is daunting. We have to start with the elected officials.

When leaders have been willing to communicate that message, we’ve seen great success.


RA:
 What about initiatives that have a sunset provision, like Measure R? Now that people are used to paying those taxes, do you see the potential for them to be expanded indefinitely to help maintain the assets that they are building?

 

JM: Los Angeles is interesting in that it actually has three different measures in place. Two are permanent, one is not. Clearly their selling point and the centerpiece of the measures is the program of capital improvements.There is money in Measure R for state of good repair and operations, to a degree. Even though it was just passed in 2009,there’s currently active talk going on about going back and looking to extend Measure R or make it permanent because the needs don’t go away.

The clear record across the country shows people are willing to vote for these even in tough economic times, and even when they’re opposing other taxes, if they see the benefit. So if people see their commutes and their air quality improve, hopefully that will mean that they would vote to extend it and continue it.

JD: There’s a connection here with a point that was made earlier about the role of the federal government. Just a few short years ago, transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was down here in Georgia. One of the comments that he made really resonated here. He basically said that ‘Georgia needs to get its act together’ and if it doesn’t, not to expect the federal government to put resources back into Georgia to support transportation.

I think that going forward, there’s likely to be an attitude that the federal government will help those who have helped themselves by putting skin in the game, by making progress, by demonstrating responsible stewardship of the resources that are raised locally. That’s where you’re going to get the federal investment. My expectation—my hope—is that by layering these things we’re going to be able to address the huge backlog in the state of good repair needs that we have right now.Picking up on a couple of points that both of you have made previously: transparency and accountability. Here in Georgia, the law states that in each region that passes this Regional Transportation Referendum, a citizens’ oversight committee will be established that will be charged with reporting regularly to the citizens in that region the schedule and budget status of the program. So, you’ve got that bit of transparency and accountability in place.

With respect to cost estimating and preventing overruns, every single project on the Atlanta region project list has a contingency built into it which was developed through a very exhaustive cost estimation process. Most projects have a 30 percent contingency added on to them. Jared, your point is well made that by estimating conservatively you are reducing the number of projects that could be delivered, but in contrast, you’re increasing the likelihood that you will deliver what’s on the list. We’ve told the voters exactly what they’re voting for and that’s what they’re getting.

If I may elaborate on my earlier point that in the Atlanta region 85 percent of the funds that are collected will go to these 157 specific projects. The remaining 15 percent of what is collected during this 10-year tax period will be distributed per capita and per lane mile to all of the jurisdictions within the region to spend on their local needs. The money remaining from any projects that come in under budget will be distributed throughout the region via that 15 percent bucket.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of trust by the public that government is going to deliver on its promises. In the case of this regional referendum, we’ve tried as hard as we can in the creation of this law and how it’s going to be overseen, to remove as much doubt as possible about whether or not government is going to deliver on its promise. We’ve been very clear that this is the only thing that this money is going to be spent on. Then other people are going to be overseeing it and reporting to the population about how the entire program is being administered and delivered.

JS: I think we’re seeing very similar trends. Given that our national economy is still struggling, I’m curious about how much of the message can or should be job creation or job retention. It’s one of the things we’re seeing play out in the governor’s race here in Washington. In years past, when we did statewide polling regarding voters’ biggest concerns, there were a number of years where transportation was the top issue. Now the focus is on jobs. We need to leverage that dynamic because there’s a clear connection between jobs and transportation investment. We need to conduct more economic analysis in terms of jobs creation and retention while demonstrating the positive impacts on the economy. I think people underestimate the power of that message.

JD: That kind of economic analysis was conducted here in the Atlanta region. The Atlanta Regional Commission, which is our Metropolitan Planning Organization, engaged a number of independent economists to look at the impacts that this transportation program would have on the economy.

They estimated that we’d get a four to one return on investment in terms of gross regional product. Also, two hundred thousand additional jobs would be supported by this measure, almost two-thirds of which are in mid- to high-paying job sectors that would result in an $18 billion increase in the region’s personal income by 2040. This is a powerful message and has been a part of our education effort here. It’s not just about unclogging congestion.

JM: Right. Another interesting dynamic in terms of transportation that we’ve seen is a reduction in the modal conflict between transit and highways. We’ve seen much more moderation in people’s views, especially on the highway side, out of the pragmatic need to pass some of these measures.

They realize that voters in urban areas are more supportive of transit and they need to see balance in a particular package or program. Thus for the roads piece to be successful it has to be connected either directly or at a program level to transit improvement.

RA: As previously mentioned, California, Washington, and Oregon are currently investigating the cost savings that would be realized by creating a joint infrastructure financing authority. While the results of this analysis are to be determined, this hints at a larger role of mega-regions in the future of transportation funding. Do you see the US moving towards the formation of mega-regions to help fund transportation? What would it take to advance the idea of borderless mega-regions?

JD: I do believe we will see regions coming together and looking at opportunities for cooperation within these mega-regions. The Atlanta region happens to be in what’s been coined the Piedmont-Atlantic mega-region which stretches roughly from Raleigh through Charlotte through Atlanta over to Birmingham.

We have started as a mega-region to talk to each other and to explore opportunities. It’s a really daunting task to overcome the challenges that come with states having to work together. But I think we’re going to have to over time. I’m encouraged when I see the activity that’s going on in terms of these groups getting together and exploring those opportunities, and hope that this will be something that will be viable going forward.

The other example is the Cascadia Corridor here in the Northwest which stretches from British Columbia, through Washington, and down to Oregon. It’s been mainly focused on higher-speed rail. They’re making a series of improvements that connect Whistler, British Columbia, down to Eugene, Oregon.

JS: I’m a bit skeptical about creating a tax authority for a mega-region because we have enough challenges within each state. But I think it makes sense where you have a project or a series of projects that connect neighboring states. We have hybrids of this, such as the Interstate 5  Columbia River Crossing between Oregon and Washington. It is a bi-state program that involves funding from two states that will hopefully leverage the federal funding on the transit side and on the highway side. Perhaps one solution is some of the taxes that would have gone to the federal level remain at the mega-region level; but that is hypothetical. 

I don’t know that people have really explored the idea of a tax authority but they have discussed working together at a programmatic level to make the necessary improvements in each of the corridors, and have worked together on seeking Federal funding.

JM: I would add that all of this is very preliminary. If it were to go forward, I think it would have to be done in conjunction with a real examination of the federal role. To approach things on such a large-scale basis within a multi-state region almost suggests that the federal system is broken and unfixable.

It would be very complex to put together multi-state arrangements without federal concurrence. Even that means that the federal government would have to have a hand in shaping it. It’ll be really interesting to see how it plays out. Again, the reason for looking at these things is largely because the federal government isn’t doing what it used to do. Maybe it’ll force people to start looking again at the federal role and how can we support states while stitching together a national economy.

RA: Are there other innovative funding schemes evolving that you’re witnessing at the local level?

JD: One opportunity I’ve seen is congestion pricing in the form of high-occupancy toll lanes. The goal is: increase tolls as congestion increases to place a premium on use of the free-flowing lane. Those tolls that are collected go to pay off that investment and perhaps to expand the system throughout the region over time.

Another one that intrigues me is parking policy. In much of Atlanta it’s very inexpensive to park your automobile. There is an incentive to drive your car to work because you can afford to park. If we can figure out how to use parking policy to make other transportation modes attractive to people, it would go a long way. I think that’s something that needs to be explored. But we’re not there yet in Atlanta

JM: Those are really good points. There was a flurry of congestion pricing activity a few years ago as a result of the very visible program put into place in London, which has been very successful. The USDOT made a push for it and the Georgia program is funded in part through one of those grants. Los Angeles is implementing congestion pricing. New York failed in its attempt to do it. Congestion pricing injects economics more directly into decision making about transportation. That’s a good thing for the future in that it makes things more balanced, more real. It helps people to understand the implications of their decisions about how and when they’re traveling and what the real costs of those decisions are.

RA: What strategic advice do you offer transportation industry stakeholders interested in exploring innovative funding solutions to help deliver their transportation programs?

JM: First, look at what’s been done around the country and around the world. There are some very good lessons to be learned—both good and bad—about what’s happened. A key element gets back to a point we talked about earlier, which is to understand that when you engage people constructively, they understand the importance of transportation and the need to invest in it and maintain it. The more constructively that you can engage the public in those discussions the better off you’ll be.

JS: I agree. Another important takeaway is the importance of transparency and accountability. Don’t underestimate the sophistication of the voters.

Also, embrace coalitions of business, labor, and environmental constituencies that will work hand-in-glove with local and state elected leaders in helping to craft a package. Keep in mind that the private sector is going to have to fund these ballot initiatives. So we have a vested interest in influencing the package to be put out to a vote of the people. Eventually it has to pass at the polls, so helping to educate the elected leaders in that regard is a bit of a challenge. What they might pass out of a legislature could be very different than what might pass at the polls.

JD: In addition, it is also imperative to make sure that you communicate all of the benefits that accrue from investments of this nature. Jared was very eloquent about the need to be able to provide very good information about the impact to economies and jobs. If you ignore that then you’ve missed a really important selling point for why this investment is worthwhile. 

Image Header Source: Ed Schipul (Creative Commons)