Highway Construction Industry
CASE STUDY: Solving the Highway Funding Crisis
The mission is easily defined: get more money for highway maintenance and construction. But like many public policy issues, the mission is easier to describe than to accomplish.
A statewide association representing the highway construction industry saw the funding crisis coming long before the bridge collapsed onto Interstate 70 in Washington County in 2005 – a precursor to the Minneapolis tragedy nearly two years later. Drumming up public support when most Americans already feel over-taxed and most policymakers fear that raising taxes or fees will result in voter backlash is, to say the least, a challenge.
But the client has kept its focus and has seen steady progress, both in terms of the public’s awareness and attitudes, and the willingness of lawmakers to address the issue. The communication and outreach efforts have included:
- Extensive use of survey research to track public perceptions and develop and refine messages.
- The care and feeding of a statewide list of editorial writers and transportation beat reporters, as well as the Statehouse press corps.
- Editorial board briefings and guest column submissions.
- The staging of special events that have garnered attention for this very important public policy issue.
- Securing statewide broadcast media opportunities through the Pennsylvania Cable Network, Pennsylvania Newsmakers, Behind the Headlines and other public affairs venues.
- Capitalizing on catastrophic bridge and highway failures, such as the Washington County incident, the Birmingham Bridge in Pittsburgh and the closing of I-95 in Philadelphia for several days.
- Ramping up grassroots support via letters, e-mails, faxes, phone calls and face-to-face meetings between elected officials and their constituents.
- Developing coalitions with farm organizations, associations representing municipalities, labor unions, chambers of commerce and other business and economic development groups, environmental and land-use advocates, travel and tourism aficionados and highway-user organizations.
These efforts continue today, and the funding gap still exists, but Pennsylvania has taken several steps to increase highway funding by hundreds of millions of dollars. Moreover, a majority of the public is now aware of the importance of the issue and is willing to make a moderate personal investment to solve the problem.
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