Will the Real Leader Please Stand Up on Nationwide Tolling?

BrianHeadshot2It’s time to take a much closer look at tolling on a national level to fund our transportation infrastructure, but we will require leadership at a whole new level. The existing method, the gas tax, is obsolete. I won’t waste another word discussing why it’s broken because the design and construction industry has heard the reasons ad nauseum. Let’s elevate to the 10,000-foot level. There are two main issues on the table:  America’s transportation infrastructure is underfunded and the gas tax is no longer a viable funding mechanism.

The ongoing debate over how to fund our transportation infrastructure is a prime example of paralysis by analysis. There are too many options on the table and each presents a different set of complications. The result is inaction. It’s human nature. It’s time for action. The time has come to adopt national tolling despite its potential imperfections. The concept of tolling is easily understood, familiar, and conducive to addressing inflation. The perfect funding method is the Holy Grail. It doesn’t exist.

My 20-plus year career has been dedicated to promoting our nation’s infrastructure and those that design and build it. Seven of those years involved lobbying for funding at Pennsylvania’s transportation construction trade association. With that said, I fully understand there will be political implications to taking leadership on this massive shift in public policy. The Congressperson that musters up the courage to resolve this issue may not see a second term in office. But sacrifice is part of leadership. He or she must embrace the risk and have passion for the cause. It can be done. President Obama proved it when he passed the Affordable Care Act and got re-elected, despite widespread public and partisan discontent. Bold moves often result in resistance to change. The alternative is complacency.

As a Marketing professional, I believe we need to consider our target market: American taxpayers. This issue hasn’t been addressed because our leadership in Washington is not quite strong enough. That’s not to say that Congressman Shuster and some others aren’t accomplishing anything. It’s quite the contrary. But what we’re talking about here is a paradigm shift in the way we fund transportation. This requires leadership at a whole new level. One of the greatest stumbling blocks is public disapproval and the lack of political will to slaughter the sacred cow known as the gas tax. Getting this done will require the kind of leadership that can align conservatives, liberals, and American taxpayers. And it requires the stomach to make bold moves and accept potentially severe consequences.

There are a few realities to consider. The public takes our nation’s infrastructure for granted. Furthermore, the vast majority of American citizens have no comprehension of the gas tax and how our infrastructure is funded. Nor do they care. You can’t blame them; our tax system is ridiculously complex. Adopting national tolling gives us a unique opportunity to simplify the way that we fund transportation infrastructure. It also presents an opportunity to increase public support by repackaging transportation funding in a way that is more palatable to taxpayers. Regardless of how Congress packages this issue, the public will bring out the torches if they sense a tax increase so the solution needs to be fair.

Parity is a theme in our country today on many levels. Nationwide tolling offers parity because it’s a usage-based fee structure. Drive on the road and you pay a toll. It’s also a simple concept, as opposed to the current gas tax, which factors in some complex Math that the American public will never embrace. As a marketing professional, I believe the gas tax has a positioning problem. Lack of understanding by the target market creates resistance. As human beings, we resist what we don’t understand. We stand a much better chance of getting public approval if taxpayers clearly understand the process.

I have heard it said that FHWA is opposed to tolling roads that were funded with taxpayer dollars. On the surface, this is a valid point. The problem is that we have built such a complex system, that we will inevitably ruffle some feathers regardless of the approach. Congress will need to make every effort to draft fair and sensible legislation over the long term.

In conclusion, it’s time for bold action on this issue. Nationwide tolling appears to have the greatest potential as a fair system. Let’s remember that the gas tax wasn’t a perfect method of funding when it was adopted in 1932, but Congress managed to plow forward and work out the bugs.

This is a call to action for Congress. Stop searching for the perfect solution because it doesn’t exist. We need to position nationwide tolling as the equitable way to fund our nation’s infrastructure and properly sell the concept to the American public. We will look back in 20 years and recognize this as a pendulum shift that required bold leadership. My only hope is that the gas tax will be a speck in the rearview mirror by that time.

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This article was written by Brian M. Fraley, Fraley AEC Solutions, LLC. | www.fraleysolutions.com

Jason Carter pushing for transportation sales tax

092312_charter_states_HS05Democrat Jason Carter is reviving the idea of a regional sales tax for transportation infrastructure improvements in Georgia.

In 2012 Carter and Gov. Nathan Deal backed a sales tax increase for transportation, known as the T-SPLOST, but failed in most parts of the state despite support from a big part of the business community and many political leaders.

“We have to revisit a TSPLOST of some kind, and we have to revisit it in a way that would change the political environment,” Carter said. “Folks just don’t trust the political environment.”

Carter believes “T-SPLOST like activity” and more public-private partnerships should be options to improve the state’s roads and bridges. He also believes counties should be able to band together and levy their own tax.

“There has to be some way that we’re going to sit down and have a robust discussion about how to fund it. And one option is certainly to revisit a TSPLOST with a different geographical footprint, with a different set of partners, with a different structure. So there’s only so many places they can go,” said Carter. “All of that should be on the table.”

Without a long-term solution to the Highway Trust Fund, states will continue to look for new ways to fund roadwork. Some potential options include a gas tax increase and an increase in tolls.

Drunk driving deaths down in Wisconsin

sign-40575_640The Wisconsin Department of Transportation has said deaths and injuries caused from drunken drivers have dropped dramatically over the past year.

The number of fatalities in alcohol-related crashes in Wisconsin have dropped a whopping 47 percent from 348 in 2003 to 185 in 2013. The number of injuries fell 59 percent, from 6,445 in 2003 to 2,660 last year.

The overall number of alcohol-related crashes dropped 45 percent, from 9,007 in 2003 to 4,945 in 2013.

Drunken drivers have always been a big reason for concern for not just drivers, but everyone who is near a highway. Earlier this year two construction workers were killed by a drunken driver who crashed into a work zone in Texas.

Alcohol or not, being a road worker has become a dangerous job. In August one worker died when a driver veered off the road, hitting a nine-man crew. Another worker died in a hit and run.

Verrazano-Narrows bridge receives 50th anniversary exhibit

3692619906_efa20b1309_zThe Verrazano-Narrows bridge that connects Staten Island and Brooklyn will have its 50th birthday celebrated with an exhibit chronicling its construction.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) unveiled the exhibit , “Spanning the Narrows for Five Decades.” It celebrates the half centennial of the bridge with pictures of its construction, parts that were formerly on the bridge and historic memorabilia from its opening.

“When the bridge opened 50 years ago, it brought Staten Islanders closer to their fellow New Yorkers,” said James Fortunato, Executive Vice President and Chief of Operation for MTA Bridge and Tunnels. “The story of how the bridge is built is as compelling as its legacy.”

The exhibit will be open at the Historic Richmond Town until the end of the year.

According to David Riggs, facility engineer for the bridge, nearly 200,000 vehicles travel between Staten Island and Brooklyn on the bridge every single day. Around 66 million vehicles use it every year.

Deficient roads cost Alabama drivers $3.1 billion statewide

ExpectDelaysDeficient, congested and unsafe roadways cost Alabama drivers as much as $1,562 annually, and a total of $3.1 billion statewide, according to a new TRIP report. Roads and bridges in need of improvement are causing higher vehicle operating costs, more traffic crashes and congestion-related delays.

The Trip report points out that 15 percent of Alabama’s major urban roads and highways are in poor condition. Nearly a quarter of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

Alabama drivers on major urban roads are seeing more and more traffic delays, forcing them to spend more money on fuel.

If that doesn’t alarm you, this certainly will: the state’s rural non-interstate traffic fatality rate is nearly double the fatality rate on all other roads in the state.

A breakdown of the annual cost per motorist in Alabama’s largest urban areas can be found below:

 

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Alabama drivers are facing higher vehicle operating costs, more traffic crashes and congestion-related delays than ever.

 

A total of 23 percent of the state’s bridges are reportedly showing signs of significant deterioration and nine percent are found to be structurally deficient. An additional 14 percent of Alabama’s bridges are functionally obsolete.

The most concerning statistics from the report are the fatality rates. Traffic crashes in the state has claimed the lives of 4,435 people between 2008 and 2012. Alabama’s traffic fatality rate of 1.33 fatalities per 100 million miles traveled is significantly higher than the national average of 1.13.

Like all states, Alabama can’t do a whole lot to improve its roads and bridges until Congress finds a long-term solution to the Highway Trust Fund.

“These conditions are only going to get worse if greater funding is not made available at the state and federal levels,” said Will Wilkins, TRIP’s executive director. “Congress can help by approving a long-term federal surface transportation program that provides adequate funding levels, based on a reliable funding source. If not, Alabama is going to see its future federal funding threatened, resulting in in fewer road and bridge repair projects, loss of jobs and a burden on the state’s economy.”

DOT owes Palm Beach over $300K

111813-BridgeUpdateIn 2010 the Florida Department of Transportation paid Palm Beach $1.046 million when it took all but 1,598 square feet of a 14,744-square-foot parcel at the southeast corner of the Flagler Memorial Bridge to make room for a replacement bridge.

The town would go on to sue the DOT, saying that amount wasn’t enough. After mediation between the two sides, a settlement worth nearly $1.4 million was approved. That gives the town an additional $353,100.

Bill Diamond, who represented the town in mediation, called it a “great settlement.”

“I guess it worked out well, and I’m happy to do it for the town. It was a great victory for the town. I’m pleased that once in a while something does go right.” Diamond said with a laugh.

A little over $300k might not seem like a lot for the DOT, but it will be pinching pennies until a long-term Highway Trust fund bill is passed.

 

Hyundai partners with Werk-Brau

header-logoHyundai Construction Equipment Americas (HCEA) has announced a partnership with Werk-Brau, an attachment manufacturer based in Ohio. The partnership should allow Hyundai to provide a wider array of attachment options to its customers.

Werk-Brau offers a complete line of original equipment manufacturer and replacement attachments for construction equipment including heavy duty excavator and miniexcavator buckets, ditch cleaning and draining buckets, hydraulic and mechanical quick couplers and hydraulic and manual thumbs.

Customers will now have the ability to purchase Hyundai equipment with Werk-Brau attachments through HCEA’s dealer network. Werk-Brau will be responsible for the timing and delivery of all products directly to the customer’s locations.

Hyundai always works to bring its customers top notch equipment. Recently the company expanded its 9A series with three wheeled excavators, and we’re still awaiting the release of the H930C backhoe loader.

 

Firearms to be used for road construction

la-me-ln-guns-melted-20130730-001Thousands of handguns, rifles and other weapons have been destroyed to eventually be used in construction of roads and bridges. The weapons were melted and converted into steel rebar as part of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department’s 21st annual Gun Melt event.

Over 178,000 weapons have been destroyed as part of the event since its inception.

“All kinds of weapons, guns that have been altered, converted Mac-10s, we have knives, rifles, pistols, revolvers,” Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Nicole Nishida said.

In addition to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,  over 12 local law enforcement agencies have also contributed weapons that had previously been confiscated.

Not everyone agrees with the decision to destroy the firearms. Sam Paredes, spokesperson for Gun Owners of California, said officials should sell the confiscated firearms on the legal gun market and use that revenue to promote gun safety in the community.

In addition to promoting gun safety, maybe some of that revenue could go toward the Highway Trust Fund?

Construction worker killed while laying asphalt

John Garner, 52, was killed while construction crews were laying asphalt in Batesville, Arkansas. Authorities say Garner was helping with the construction when a piece of equipment flipped and rolled on top of him.

The accident took place at the intersection of Highland and East Main in Batesville. He was pronounced dead at White River Medical Center.

Deaths to construction workers are becoming an all-too-common occurrence. A similar death happened in New York when a 62-year-old worker died when equipment fell off a pallet and landed on him.

Road workers also face serious danger when working alongside busy roads, whether they’re picking up construction cones, or just tidying up the side of the highway.

Vulcan launches product calculator app

vulcan-materials-logoVulcan Materials has launched its product calculator app for Android phone, tablet and other Android devices. The app can be a useful tool to estimate the construction materials needed for various road projects.

The Vulcan Materials product calculator is free and can be downloaded from the Google Play Store today!

The app estimates needed quantities of different aggregate, asphalt and concrete products when the user enters length, width and thickness, and material properties such as density.  To assist with calculations, menus are also available for selection of typical density values for different aggregate types.

In addition to the new Vulcan app, we encourage you to check out these three safety apps. Remember: you can never be too safe!

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