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TIME Op Ed Tells the Story: We Get What We Pay For

By: 
Bill Cramer

“Want America to Be ‘Great’ Again? Pay For It.”

That was the picture-perfect headline that TIME magazine, one of America’s most venerable and influential print publications, attached to the op ed it published last week by IBTTA Executive Director and CEO Patrick Jones.

TIME’s decision to accept the op ed was picture perfect in itself, a reflection of the growing prominence of tolling and other forms of user financing in the search for solutions to the highway infrastructure funding crisis.

But headlines are generally written by editors, not authors.  And in this case, the editors at TIME needed just nine words to sum up an argument that has been confounding the transportation community and Washington, DC legislators for a generation.

‘The Problem is Us’

In the op ed, Jones notes that the fight for adequate infrastructure investment has been going on for decades. “We are still far behind where we would like to be,” he writes, and “the problem is us. We say we want better roads and safer drinking water. But year after year, we refuse to come up with the money to make the big improvements that we need.”

The White House and Congress have both introduced trillion-dollar plans to repair the country’s highways and other infrastructure and create trillions of jobs. But “paying for a grand plan is always the sticking point,” Jones notes. “We get the big vision first in the light of day, and the messy sausage-making of pay-fors in the dead of night.”

He cites a newspaper reader’s recent comment to explain why he blames the American people, not their elected representatives, for a very familiar disconnect: “Americans want first class roads but don’t want to pay for them. Well, folks, nothing is free. No one will provide these things without taxes or user fees."

Time for An Adult Conversation

The solution, Jones says, is to open a grown-up conversation with Americans about the investment we’ll all have to make to get the infrastructure we want, need, and deserve. “Adults understand that there is no free lunch and there are no free roads,” he writes. “Let’s have an honest conversation that starts like this: We are going to build and maintain the finest infrastructure in the world and we, the American people, are going to pay for it.”

That’s a line of thought that IBTTA has been working to introduce for a very long time. Now, by treating its own readers like grown-ups and inviting them to join the conversation, TIME has made a valuable contribution to an all-important decision process that will give Americans the wherewithal to do great things for decades to come.

Get a first-hand look at what a properly-funded, technology-enabled roadway can do. Attend IBTTA’s and TRB’s Joint Symposium on AET and Managed Lanes, July 16-18, 2017 in Dallas, TX.