AASHTO Journal, 27 April 2012
With many of the nation’s roads in need of improvement and future transportation projects put on hold due to the lack of sufficient funding, it is important to increase public awareness of the need to invest in U.S. infrastructure, concludes a report released Monday by the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia.
The report, “Are We There Yet? Selling America on Transportation,” is based on the Miller Center’s David R. Goode National Transportation Policy Conference held this past fall and co-chaired by former U.S. Transportation Secretaries Samuel Skinner and Norman Mineta. More than 60 transportation experts at that conference focused on how to highlight the nation’s transportation challenges in a compelling way for the general public. Those in attendance included three other former U.S. transportation secretaries in addition to Skinner and Mineta – James Burnley, Rodney Slater, and Mary Peters.
“There must be adequate funding, both for the maintenance of existing systems and for further expansion and interconnection of new systems,” said Skinner and Mineta in a letter included in the report. “Transportation experts, stakeholders, and users agree that change is needed. To set change in motion, however, there must first be public pressure for transportation investment and reform. Despite broad support in principle, however, active public engagement on these issues has been elusive.”
The report draws on what was discussed at the conference and outlines four key elements for engaging the public on the need for infrastructure investment. The first involves framing the transportation debate around economic growth, employment, and competitiveness, all in tandem with overall quality of life. Another key element entails coming up with a plan that is keyed to the rhythms of an election year as well as important events within the transportation calendar. The report also cites the need for targeted and efficient use of both traditional media and social media in fostering broader public engagement. The final key element encompasses linking local transportation investment opportunities and benefits with policy decisions at the national level.
“Through a smart, aggressive, and coordinated new communications effort, transportation advocates and stakeholders can elevate their issue to a level not experienced since President Eisenhower’s era,” the report states. “A campaign of sufficient scope and with the appropriate mix of tactics and messages can move national elected officials to take note of stakeholder priorities and incorporate those priorities into transportation policy proposals and discussions. An effective campaign can also generate a swell of grassroots and traditional engagement efforts that help national stakeholders maintain advocacy pressure, generate new content, and build a broader base of support for meaningful transportation reform.”
The 62-page report is available at bit.ly/Miller-Center-Report.