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14 Oct 2015
No matter what state you live in, the practice of highway tolling is essential to supplement revenues for our crumbling transportation infrastructure. There are currently dozens of electronic toll collection (ETC) systems in operation – some that work across state lines, and many that do not. 45 million travelers use ETC in the US and nearly $13 billion in tolls are collected through this method.
As part of MAP-21—the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, enacted in July 2012— all toll facilities on Federal highways are required to implement technologies or practices that allow tolling systems to be interoperable nationwide by October 2016. This means that no matter what toll road you drive on, you would be able to have a single account and single transponder that works on electronic toll lanes nationwide. This poses a significant challenge, as there are around 120 toll agencies across the country, all using various systems—not to mention that the Act was not inclusive of funding for this initiative.
Sworn in and awaiting my turn to testify
With the deadline approaching, a congressional hearing was called on September 30th by the Committee of Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on Transportation and Public Assets, to review the status of the interoperability initiative (video and testimonies). I was called to testify, along with leadership from the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA)—the organization leading the charge at the national level—as well as the Federal Highway Administration, and the Alliance for Toll Interoperability.
It’s not often that you get to talk in front of congressional subcommittees, in fact this was a first for me. I was humbled at the opportunity to represent the IBTTA team of over 100 volunteers from throughout the US that been working on interoperability committees for over 4 years now. Besides experiencing a fair amount of nerves as I sat in front of the microphones and cameras emitting a live stream of the proceedings over the web, I felt a very real sense of duty to provide accurate, well-considered and valuable commentary. When you are testifying under oath, you must be careful not to make any assumptions or off-the-cuff estimations, which means considering your every word. Luckily I had a great deal of support from my Atkins colleagues and friends. From Fran O’Connor and Tom Delaney, who continue to actively promote Atkins’ continued involvement in this initiative, to Suzanne Murtha—who helped guide me through the process of testimony, even escorting me from her office to the meeting room to keep me from getting lost and too nervous!
Meeting Congressman John L. Mica (R-FL), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation and Public Assets in the Oversight and Government Reform Committee
As Interoperability Steering Committee member and Roadside Operations Subcommittee Chair for IBTTA, I was able to speak about a great deal of progress that has been made, almost completely through volunteer efforts. With countless hours volunteered (likely exceeding millions of dollars in value), there is great effort being expended to make interoperability a reality and progress toward the MAP-21 mandate. With support from IBTTA volunteers and limited funds from IBTTA, we’ve worked to build industry consensus, developed requirement documents and have started phase 1 of testing.
But the process is now at a critical point. Significant funding is needed to perform the final tests and certification process. Like many other transportation initiatives—lack of investment is our greatest adversary and challenge. However, MAP-21, while unfunded for interoperability, has provided an impetus for real progress to occur in tolling. Organizations like IBTTA, and its members, have shown great commitment to developing interoperability—and to date, on their own dime.
As a result of this hearing, and confirmation of the importance of tolling interoperability, Congressman John Mica (R-FL) warned that a bill would be introduced to penalize agencies that are not in compliance. The US DOT also agreed to continue discussions on potential funding to complete performance testing.
My colleagues and I at Atkins understand that efficient tolling is critical to enable our clients to provide safe roads and bridges for all of us to drive on. Making the process convenient for drivers, and efficient for agencies, means better travel for all of us (even those who avoid the toll roads). It was truly an honor to be part of the legislative process and doing work that unites various stakeholders to improve our nation’s infrastructure. And maybe next time I’ll even remember to breathe!
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