By T. Peter Ruane, ARTBA President & CEO
The NCAA college basketball tournaments are an annual rite of spring where millions of Americans of all ages engage in an unofficial national holiday (of at least an hour or two) to fill out, and then monitor brackets. For two dramatic weeks each March, fans and casual observers come together to follow tournaments routinely filled with buzzer beaters, Cinderella stories and excellence.
As I reflect on the sensational men’s and women’s tournaments just completed, there are several interesting parallels between these celebrated events and our industry’s advocacy efforts to secure necessary levels of federal transportation investment.
Throughout both tournaments, we saw countless examples of teams who never quit. Sometimes they were able to overcome seemingly insurmountable deficits, other times they were not. Regardless, these young adults routinely demonstrated a belief in themselves and their cause that would never allow them to back down.
As all ARTBA members know, we never quit. We also make no apologies for our zealous pursuit of federal policies that will lead to a safer and more efficient national transportation network. Attempting to advance innovations or new solutions to long-standing dilemmas isn’t always easy or popular, but failure to do so almost assuredly preserves an unacceptable status quo.
Another similarity between the NCAA college basketball tournaments and federal advocacy is that both are replete with talking heads and odds makers. Interestingly enough, both also demonstrate that so-called “experts” are often wrong.
For two straight years, the juggernaut that is the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball team has failed to make it to the championship game despite a 2016-17 season that was part of 111 straight victories and an undefeated 2017-18 campaign. Similarly, the men of Loyola-Chicago, aided by their chaplain “Sister Jean,” beat long odds on their way to the Final Four becoming one of only three 11 seeds in history to reach that goal.
The odds makers in our case are the Washington, D.C., political class and the media. Each have been throwing cold water on the outlook for a robust infrastructure bill and a Highway Trust Fund fix since before the 2016 presidential election was complete. While I certainly wish we were further along in that process, there is no denying it is still moving forward.
Trump administration officials testified on their infrastructure proposal weekly in the House and Senate during March. The president also recently gave an infrastructure-focused speech in Ohio where he once again pledged to deliver “the biggest, boldest, infrastructure plan in the last half-century.” Republican leaders on Capitol Hill appear settled on moving a series of infrastructure bills as opposed to one measure and will start with reauthorization of the federal aviation and water transportation programs.
No one said this was going to be easy or quick, but it is also too soon to be writing any obituaries. Unfortunately, some cannot resist the urge to pronounce a final score before halftime.
The take away is that players in the game—be it college basketball or lobbying Congress—are not deterred by the talking heads because they are too focused on doing what they know is necessary to be successful.
With that in mind, make plans to attend the May 14-16 ARTBA Federal Issues Program and Transportation Construction Coalition Fly-In. Flooding the halls of Congress with industry advocates pushing for a permanent Highway Trust Fund fix is one of the most meaningful things we can do to ensure the infrastructure discussion continues to move forward on Capitol Hill.
This column appears in the March/April issue of Transportation Builder magazine.