IBTTA director says future of traffic management looks bright

While transportation funds dry up and roads crumble, tolling, pricing and public-private partnerships foreshadow bright future

News International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association March 22, 2007
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Testifying before the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission on Monday, March 19, International Bridge Tunnel and Turnpike Association Executive Director Patrick D. Jones said that while the transportation demands facing the nation are daunting, tolling and road pricing are formidable tools to help the nation generate new money for highways and better manage congestion.

"We are here today because Congress, the White House and the states cannot seem to find a way to make the necessary investments in our highways," Jones said.

"Today on our highways we experience the equivalent of an electrical brownout twice a day, everyday, in every major metropolitan area in this country. This brownout manifests itself as gridlock when the congestion of the morning and evening rush hour brings commerce and commuting to a halt."

Jones emphasized three basic points:

• First, tolling is a piece of the puzzle. Road-user charging is one of the tools that will help solve our mobility challenge. It is not the only tool; but it is a very important one because it establishes a direct connection between the use of the road and payment for that use;

• Second, opponents of tolling are standing in the way of transportation system improvements by taking common, everyday words such as "private," "investment," "foreign," "profit" and "lease" and turning them into profanities; and

• Third, improvements in electronic tolling technologies which permit non-stop revenue collection give us the chance to raise large amounts of new money for our highway system and manage it more efficiently.

In response to questioning by Commissioners Busalacchi, Cino, Geddes, Heminger, McArdle, Schenendorf and Skancke on the subject of leasing existing toll-road assets, Jones described how toll-road concessions in Europe, South Africa, Australia and elsewhere have been used successfully to improve mobility and serve the public interest, while at the same time providing an attractive investment vehicle for private financing.

On the subject of "cherry picking" toll road assets, Jones said, "If by cherry picking you are referring to private firms investing in transportation facilities that have the highest probability of success then, yes, we are seeing cherry picking. But keep in mind that the current system, which has grossly under funded our highway facilities and which has created assets that are now undervalued, have created the conditions in which 'cherries' can exist."

Responding to a question concerning the appropriate use of proceeds from leasing a toll facility, Jones suggested "rather than writing detailed rules that require a state or city to invest the proceeds from an asset lease in transportation, the commission should work to create a transportation system so powerful and vibrant that state and cities will want to invest their proceeds in other transportation projects."

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