T4America Blog

News, press releases and other updates

InfrastructureUSA sits down with T4 America Director James Corless

At T4 America, we often lament that transportation policy is a page eight issue as opposed to a page one issue. Groups like InfrastructureUSA help bring our priorities to the forefront.

James Corless, our director, spoke with the folks at InfrastructureUSA on the phone last week about an array of topics, including high-speed rail, reauthorization and articulating an infrastructure vision for the 21st century. Listen to the full audio of the discussion here at InfrastructureUSA, conveniently broken up into shorter bits.

James cited some of the challenges facing transportation advocates in trying to catch the spotlight.

…everybody depends on transportation every single day. In many ways it’s in front of our face, but it’s hidden in plain sight. I don’t think that there is yet enough resonance with the public compared to things like the economy, national security, jobs, the environment, health care, there just hasn’t been enough resonance. At the end of the day, it’s often a very local issue; it’s not seen necessarily as something that rises to the level of national policy. That’s the challenge.

Another factor may be the message itself. James said transportation advocates have “gotten very wonky over the years. We tend to talk in terms of acronyms and funding programs and very arcane and outdated and scientific and very unimaginative language.”

James also discussed the need for high-level leadership, similar to the leadership President Eisenhower deployed in the 1950s to push through an enormous and unprecedented interstate highway system. James praised President Obama for making a signature issue out of high-speed rail, which will do a lot at the state and local level to spur economic development and travel access.

Citing the need for a broader vision, James called on advocates and policymakers alike to stop just asking for more money and start talking about what transportation is going to look like in the coming decades.

I think we actually have to reestablish trust with the American people and give them a new vision for the future, and tell them that this is not merely spending, this is an investment. We won’t do that simply by saying, “boy we’re really short on money and we need $120 billion just to keep pace.” That’s not going to excite people, especially with the kind of fiscal anxieties that exist out there. Asking simply for more money for transportation is putting the cart before the horse. We’ve got to sell people on a vision and we’ve got to reestablish their trust.

Click here for a complete transcript of James’ responses. (PDF)