EDITORIAL: Let’s be a wise one

Mileage-based fee system can get here quicker

Bill Wilson / November 04, 2011

There is a smart phone in Minneapolis and a set of dog tags in Iraq set to return to the Twin Cities.
That pretty much sums up the mindset of the future of road and bridge funding in the U.S.—at least if former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and I met for a verbal standoff in a well-lit television studio. I was originally thinking a dark alley setting but let’s face it, we are fighting with rhetoric here, not man-made weaponry.
Rendell, who is not one to mince words, was recently speaking on a panel about the future of U.S. infrastructure, touting the need for a greater investment in roads and bridges and was asked how the economy-shaken country was going to pay for everything that was needed.
“That’s a great question,” Rendell quirked back. “And the answer is two words, beginning with A and I.”
The answer seeker was still a little miffed, when Rendell mercifully stopped with the brain twisting and shouted, “Iraq and Afghanistan!”
In late October, President Barack Obama announced that troops in Iraq and Afghanistan would be returning home by Dec. 31, and Rendell now believes that trillions of dollars that have been airlifted overseas to seek and destroy the likes of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden could be shifted over to fill the gigantic crater of infrastructure funding needs of the U.S. moving forward.
I’m going to throw the first verbal punch here in this 8.5 x 11 paper ring. Mr. Rendell, I am wondering how you think Congress is going to be open to taking all the money it was blowing, I mean strategically spending, on the wars in the Middle East and dropping it in the battle-scarred hands that shape our great industry. This is the same Congress, or at least part of the same Congress, that has taken a knife to the spending habits of Washington and is determined to not allow any shifting of federal dollars to help feed the road and bridge marketplace.
I doubt Mr. Rendell was the least bit shaken by his first mouthful of rhetorical knuckles, so let me come back a little harder with a real knee-bender. The problem with the thought process of those like Rendell (and there seem to be enough to form an army the size of the one in China) is it produces ammunition that is fit to be fired from a sling-shot rather than a rocket launcher. I am sure Congress will find a way to spend every last dime of what was once dedicated to every last life overseas, and I am betting that very little will come our way.
What this industry needs to do once and for all is pick up that smart phone in Minneapolis and look at it. What they are doing in the north is part evolutionary and part revolutionary. There have been pilot projects for mileage-based user fees done in places like Oregon and Iowa. In Minnesota, they are looking at taking a device that a majority of the population already has—the smart phone—and using it to charge motorists for every trip that is made out on the road. Developers, however, put on their future-vision goggles when developing this little pistol of promise. The phone also sounds alerts when drivers are approaching work zones and school zones, and even beeps if you are going over the enforceable speed limits.
People in the business have claimed it could take years to implement mileage-based fees, but I am convinced that by using the expansive cell-phone network the U.S. is currently sitting on, an aggressive strategy could have a system in place by 2014. This is what will produce a funding heavyweight champion instead of a frail commoner looking for handouts on the street corner. Mr. Rendell, I believe those are your teeth lying on the canvas.

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