Vol. 18, No. 6; Nov/Dec 2007
In our last issue we offered some educated guesses as to the directions in which the Commissioners' thinking is leaning. These speculations are turning out to be largely correct. Conversations with individual Commissioners and discussions at the latest Commission meeting on November 15, strongly indicate that the Commission has concluded the nation needs to fundamentally reconsider the way in which transportation is funded, financed and built. While the Commissioners are not prepared to declare the fuel tax "dead," they see direct user fees such as tolls, and ultimately mileage-based (VMT) fees, as a more effective mechanism for funding future infrastructure needs. They consider direct user fees as superior in their ability to raise revenue, promote targeted investment, address externalities, influence traveler behavior and reflect the actual costs that users impose on the highway system.
In our last issue we suggested that the state of public infrastructure and its financing could become a subject of a vigorous policy debate. With the media having thrown a spotlight on the Minnesota bridge collapse, we said, the problem of aging infrastructure might engage a wide community of public and private interests and even become an issue in presidential campaign politics (The New Politics of Transportation Financing, Sep/Oct 2007.)
According to Gladwell, ideas that have reached the tipping point and begin to spread, soon become part of the mainstream and turn into powerful agents of change. We think that is where the concept of highway tolling finds itself today. Tolling, as we approach 2008, has entered the mainstream and has begun to influence local transportation decisions throughout the country.
The Commonwealth of Virginia and its Department of Transportation (VDOT) have long been recognized as being on the forefront of transportation innovation. The State's long-standing tradition of partnering with the private sector, its recent cutting-edge public-private venture to develop a network of HOT lanes on the Capital Beltway and I-95, its ambitious projects to reconstruct the Wilson Bridge and the Springfield and Gainesville interchanges, have clearly established VDOT's leadership as bold and creative problem-solvers. VDOT's 56th Annual Transportation Conference on November 7-9, was held under the banner of "The Changing Face of Transportation." The choice of this theme, symbolized VDOT's recognition that the transportation problems of today require new approaches and novel solutions. Your editor's remarks at the concluding plenary session of the conference, presided over by Secretary Pierce Homer, reflected the same sentiment.
The annual Conference on Public-Private Ventures in Transportation (PPV Conference in short), the brainchild of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), has become the de facto voice of the transportation community on matters of the private sector role in infrastructure development. The Conference owes its credibility to the fact that its sponsor, ARTBA, has wisely reached out beyond its own core constituency and brought together a diverse group of interests in support of a common objective - that of promoting greater private sector involvement in infrastructure development. True to its tradition, the program of the 19th PPV Conference on Nov 1-2 offered a wealth of fresh insights into the evolving collective thinking of the transportation community.
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