Maintaining effective communication with the public and invested stakeholders is crucial for any project, but it is especially important for work that could spark backlash or may be misunderstood, such as the proposal of a new toll system/user-based fee roadway. Delivery of critical information should begin before the start of construction to manage expectations and alleviate concerns. The public needs to understand the need for a toll, whether the project is a response to city growth, congestion relief or a lack of current funding for necessary road maintenance.
Understanding the Value of User-Based Fee Roadways
While tolling projects are often perceived as an additional financial burden and a hassle to the average driver, no highway or roadway is ever truly free, with maintenance often covered by a motor fuel tax (MFT) or other federal, state or local taxes. Far too often, these funding sources fail to cover all maintenance costs, let alone major capital improvement costs. A user-based fee system shifts the financial burden from additional taxes on all citizens to a tax only on the drivers who use the roadway.
Revenue generated from a user-based fee/toll system is funneled to directly cover the cost of roadway improvements and maintenance. The growing popularity of electric vehicles also has led to fewer drivers making regular stops at the gas pump, resulting in a direct hit to the MFT funding available to maintain existing roadways. Some states have increased registration fees for electric vehicles to help offset the decreased revenue from MFT funds, but these fees do not correlate to the actual usage of electric vehicles on existing roadways and highways.
Effectively Conveying the Benefits
When implementing a user-based fee/toll system on a roadway, it is helpful to provide drivers with comprehensive education on how to use a tolling system safely and efficiently. It also helps to provide information on how a tolling system drives construction projects forward quickly with readily available funds, so the public can better understand the benefits of tolling.
Communication should be clear throughout every phase of the project. Even before construction begins, there is an opportunity to inform the public of how the system will function and why the project is beneficial for the community. Sharing success stories of other tolling projects around the country helps improve public perception. During the project, regular updates are crucial, especially to convey how construction will impact current usage of the road. Once the project is complete, statistics showing usage of the new toll road, as well as the demonstrated benefits, can leave a positive impression on the community.
Engaging with the public can take many different forms — in-person or virtual public meetings, media outreach or physical signage — and keeps relevant information top of mind. In addition to the general public, it is important for local officials to be supportive of a tolling project. Tolling should not be viewed as just another tax but rather as a way to directly pay for the benefits of utilizing a specific roadway.
Releasing information from early traffic or usage studies can also be helpful. These studies provide transparency into the reason for the project and keep invested stakeholders well informed. Studies can include a range of information, from expected usage to a comprehensive background on how toll prices are established.
Providing the public with educational information throughout every phase of a toll project can improve public perception and lead to increased road usage. In return, drivers will receive roads that have funding for wider lanes, snow removal services, routine maintenance and capital improvements — all of which make for a better overall driving experience.
Whether rehabilitating or building a new tollway facility, our integrated team has the ability and capacity to overcome a wide range of challenges.