When our nation’s air system was shut down as a result of the attacks by terrorists on Sept. 11, it underscored the critical role our highway system plays in the daily lives of our citizens.
All of a sudden, there was a need for emergency rescue services to move quickly to the affected areas. The immediate rescue response to the tragic events required emergency vehicles, personnel and equipment to arrive on the scene. Heavy construction equipment was needed at the scene to remove debris and help in the search for survivors. At the same time, there was a need for people near the scene to move quickly and out of harm’s way.
In the days afterward, when people had to get home, vehicles were rented and borrowed. Goods and services that normally were delivered by air were now being transported on roads. Mail delivery, freight, products and services all were primarily dependent on our nation’s road system—and it worked.
The important role that highway transportation plays in our daily lives came clearly into focus those harrowing days after Sept. 11. Now, more than three months later, The Road Information Program (TRIP) and other industry groups are gearing up to make sure that the public understands the critical role highways play in our nation’s economic and homeland security.
Until, and if, the confidence of the flying public returns, we can expect even greater travel demands on our highway network. For example, the additional threats involved with bioterrorism also may focus increased attention on the need for an area to be evacuated quickly.
The role our highway system plays in our national security also has been elevated by Sept. 11 and the subsequent threats, and TRIP is gearing up to effectively communicate this by demonstrating that people will have an even greater need to use our highway transportation system than ever before.
We must show that our already overburdened highway system needs additional investment to make sure that troops, military supplies, commercial goods and services and the public are able to move quickly, efficiently and safely.
In addition, we can publicize the fact that an accelerated federal highway infrastructure investment program will not only help our nation address an already existing capacity crisis, but also provide a much-needed help for our ailing economy.
As Congressional debate continues in the months ahead, current federal highway funding could be targeted as proposals are introduced to divert highway funding. Congressional appropriators could view the Highway Trust Fund as an easy target from which to siphon funding for other government programs. In order to fend off such attacks, we need to remind federal lawmakers—as well as the news media and public—about the critical role that highways play in our quality of life and the importance of the user fee system that supports it.
To address this new approach, TRIP worked in conjunction with other members of the highway construction industry to develop a short-term communications plan to publicize the important role highway transportation plays in every aspect of our lives.
We will be working closely with coalitions such as the Americans for Transportation Mobility (ATM is the broad-based coalition headed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to help promote reauthorization), the Transportation Construction Coalition and public sector groups such as the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials and state contractor chapters and better roads/ transportation coalitions to deliver the following points to targeted audiences:
- Our nation’s highway transportation system is vital to our economic and homeland security;
- The Interstate System—"The Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways"—was built to play a critical role in our nation’s defense;
- Increased funding for our nation’s road and bridge system will help generate jobs, relieve traffic congestion and assure economic and homeland security; and
- Our nation’s already overburdened road and bridge system faces increased travel demands resulting from an increase in the number of trips that normally would have been made by air that now are being made by car.
This is our new challenge as we approach reauthorization in the aftermath of Sept. 11.