The Road Not Taken


June 1, 2008

The Road Not Taken

As transportation reauthorization approaches, it’s important to remember that we have a voice in how this legislation is crafted. Too often, the easy road is the one most traveled. It’s much simpler to sit back and rely on others to carry the burden of developing relationships with legislators, gathering facts, and advocating the necessary investments.

Some brave souls, however, choose the more difficult path and invest the time and energy needed to build relationships and influence decision-makers. Such is the case with a dedicated North Carolina group, including the aggregate industry’s own Stephen Zelnak, Jr.

Zelnak, CEO of Martin Marietta, serves on the state’s 21st Century Transportation Committee. Formed last year, the 24-member group was assigned the task of studying the state’s infrastructure needs and developing methods to fund those needs. The News & Observer reported that on May 13, the group recommended that state lawmakers end the annual transfer of $172 million from the state’s Highway Trust Fund (HTF) to the General Fund. It recommended that $75 million be used to help fund the gap between toll collections and the cost of building and operating the Triangle Expressway. Remaining monies could then be tapped to cover debt retirement for $800 million in proposed bonds to fund additional projects. Finally, the group recommended that metropolitan counties ante up a portion of transit projects through a half-penny local sales tax and a slight increase in car registration fees.

Local reaction to the committee’s work has been positive. Newspapers including The News & Observer, The Fayetteville Observer, and The Herald-Sun have all endorsed the group’s advocacy of construction projects. Speaking to The Herald-Sun, Zelnak said, “We used to be known as the good-roads state, and now we have a D-rated system.”

The combination of fact-finding, creative financing, and emotional appeal has generated support among the public. In fact, one recent poll — conducted by Elon University — showed that state residents want the chance to consider raising local taxes and issuing state bonds to pay for better roads and transit service.

Looking at North Carolina as a model, similar strategies can be used with federal funding. There is no shortage of documentation regarding the need for an increased infrastructure investment. Many members of the Transportation Construction Coalition are working hard to help their individual constituencies speak with one voice.

What’s missing? More than likely, you. Take advantage of the opportunity to make your voice heard. Let your legislators know where you stand on infrastructure spending. If you doubt the importance of investing your time and energy, consider the words of Robert Frost:

“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
and that has made all the difference.”

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