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22 F I NA NC I NG S U R FA C E TR A NSPOR TA TION IN T HE U NIT ED ST A T ES tive interviews with people who were perceived to have Ms. Ruffalo stated that while there is no consensus influence, focus groups, a statewide public opinion sur- on how to pay for the programs funded through the vey, roundtable discussions with local leaders, and open next authorization bill, the options are clear. The pro- houses for the public in four areas of the state. gram requires revenue that can be raised from motor Historically, most state governments have received fuel taxes, a carbon tax or pollution charge, heavy vehi- a lukewarm public reception for the way they handle cle use taxes, fees on imported oil, a financial transac- transportation issues. In Washington, there had been tion tax, and, in the longer term, vehicle miles traveled extensive education on the gasoline tax. As a result, a (VMT) fees. The program will also rely on financing slight majority of the people surveyed believed that addi- techniques to leverage revenues and provide capital tional funds were needed to support transportation. As funding needed up front to implement projects. Financ- part of its research, WSTC identified three commonly ing options may include short-term borrowing from held beliefs that pose obstacles to increasing transporta- Treasury, expansion of the Transportation Infrastruc- tion funding: ture Finance and Innovation Act program, and possibly a national infrastructure bank or a national infrastruc- The economy, education, crime, and health care ture innovation fund. were more important issues than transportation and Ms. Ruffalo observed that no one on the Hill is consid- traffic congestion. ering a VMT tax at the moment, and the transportation The gasoline tax would be adequate to meet trans- community has not done an adequate job of explaining portation challenges if only government was more efficient. the benefit of increasing the motor fuel tax. Instead, the Alternative sources of funding are unnecessary. administration is focused on "shiny new stuff." Trans- portation professionals need to stop talking with only While the public generally understands the problem one another about these issues. There is a need to engage of deteriorating transportation infrastructure, it is skep- the public, elected officials, and other stakeholders from tical about the state's ability to deliver improvements, the ground up rather than the top down. The extreme and the skepticism impedes the discussion of solutions. partisan divisions in Congress allow the House and Sen- This situation is exacerbated by the lack of information ate to ignore us. Transportation professionals need to on solutions and funding alternatives. cultivate consensus among our stakeholders. We can Dr. Taylor observed that if the choice is either to keep prevail by developing a coherent message explaining the things the way they are or to institute a change, the status benefits of increased funding and the consequences of quo will always prevail. Therefore, public communica- not having money for transportation needs. tions efforts should paint a picture of what will happen if changes are not made to the way transportation revenue is generated or traffic is managed, or both. The public's Questions and Answers support is based on the benefits that the public believes it will receive. Tolling is merely a tool. To generate support Question: Are there suggestions from Washington State for tolling, we should not focus on the tool but rather on that can be applied at the federal level? the consequences of a failure to act. Answer: Innovation has to come from the local level until Congress can resolve our national issues, which have all become wedge issues. There has been a resur- Current Landscape: gence of innovation in states like Texas, North Carolina, Obstacles and Opportunities Florida, and Washington. One challenge is that state departments of transportation (DOTs) are perceived Kathy Ruffalo emphasized that the priority of Congress as inefficient, but many are implementing cutting-edge in 2010 is on job creation and the deficit. All issues are projects. DOTs need to communicate a clear mission and viewed through these prisms. It is an election year, and public purpose. The fact that many regions have multiple this may limit the opportunity to implement meaning- transportation agencies blurs the issues. ful policy during the lame duck session after November. Other priorities competing with transportation needs Question: What do you expect will be the fate of the include tax extenders, budget resolution, appropriations KerryLieberman climate bill? bills, climate legislation, energy legislation, and immi- Ms. Ruffalo: The bill includes a pollution charge gration. There is little interest in the next transportation that would generate $6 billion in revenue that would be authorization act, and there is a need to engage the pub- directed to transportation needs. There is little in the bill lic to make it a priority. that addresses transportation emissions.

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P U B L I C AND P OLITIC A L A C C EPTA NC E ISSU ES 23 Question: How can we engage the public and gain sup- Question: Could more support for increased transporta- port for pricing? tion funding be generated by making people aware of Answer: Pricing is a new area for most DOTs. It can what they are already paying? also be a generational issue where DOTs are afraid of Ms. Ruffalo: The way to gain support for transpor- losing control. Social media offer potential for DOT tation funding is to provide simple information about commissioners and agency officials to get the message funding gaps and advise the public on how they will out to the public. To communicate effectively with the benefit if new funding is made available. We need to be public, elected officials need to use information that peo- specific in identifying improvements. Information on ple can readily understand. VMT is too abstract and complicated for most people to understand. Information should be project-specific. Question: The health care debate was shallow and led to Tolling has a chance, but publicprivate partnerships are division because it did not address the real issues. How complicated. The transportation sector has done a poor can we avoid this with reauthorization? job of selling itself. We talk about the value of what we Ms. Ruffalo: The issue is more about how people feel have done rather than focusing on needs and gaps. If you about taxes than anything else. Researchers are not in talk too much about what you have done, people will ask favor in the media. Most of the heady discussion these why more money is required. days is taking place in blogs. Question: Whose job is it to do the marketing work Question: What are the odds that the WaxmanMarkey needed to gain support for transportation funding? American Clean Energy bill will pass? Answer: Industry organizations and universities need Ms. Ruffalo: The chances this year appear slim. It to teach communication techniques to enable the trans- would move more quickly if it had the support of 60 portation community to deliver a compelling and consis- senators. tent message to the general public.

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