Transportation Nation

Freight Carrier's Ad Campaign Aims To Make Infrastructure A Hot Topic During Presidential Election

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

One of the largest freight carriers in the country is riding into the presidential election with a nationwide television advertising campaign designed to spark debate about infrastructure.

Virginia-based Norfolk Southern’s CGI-laden, Toy Story-esque advertisements show a boy falling asleep in his bedroom while his toys come to life, creating a thriving city that his train set races around. The release of the media campaign is timed to coincide with the Republican and Democratic national conventions, where the freight company will have a strong presence. According to AdWeek, Norfolk Southern is also a sponsor of CNN's election coverage.

“Wherever our trains go, the economy comes to life,” says the narrator.

"One of the points Norfolk Southern likes to make is that they invest in their own infrastructure,” says Jim Lansbury, creative director at RP3, the ad agency behind the campaign. "Airlines don't build airports and trucking companies don't build highways."

The American Society of Civil Engineers’ estimates that $2.2 trillion over five years is needed to modernize the country's infrastructure, from levees and dams to highways and bridges. The federal government's primary funding source for transportation projects is the gas tax, but there's little chance it will be raised.

“Gas tax revenues and receipts have been lagging behind what we want to spend on transportation at the federal level,” says Rachel MacCleery, a transportation expert at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, who says about 25 percent of all transportation spending nationwide flows from Congress.

“The Obama administration, early in the administration, has taken the gas tax off the table,” MacCleery adds.  The 18-cent-per-gallon tax has not been raised since 1993.

With funding for projects tight, states like Virginia are turning to public/private partnerships to build major highways.

Funding major transportation projects that promise to create jobs has become a partisan issue, especially during a presidential election season. There is little enthusiasm for a new stimulus bill.

“Where you see lots of progress in infrastructure investments it definitely is a bipartisan effort,” says MacCleery.  While overall spending figures are important, where the investments are made is equally critical.  “Are we building the kinds of infrastructure systems that will help sustain the 21st century economy and really thinking about conservation? Are we maintaining the infrastructure we have now?”

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Transportation Nation

Report: Failing Infrastructure Is Costing Households $700 Per Year

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Champlain Bridge in Vermont, Demolished in 2009, Over Safety Concerns (Photo: Collin Campbell)

That the American Society of Civil Engineers wants more infrastructure investment is kind of like positing kids like popsicles on July afternoons. But the ASCE report out today  "Failure to Act: The economic impact of Current Investment Trends in Surface Transportation Infrastructure" has some sobering-ly large numbers to back up its desire for more building of roads, bridges, and transit systems.

Chief among the costs is how much deteriorating infrastructure is affecting household budgets: $420 billion by 2020, or about $7,000 per family over the next decade.   "Households will be forced to forgo discretionary purchases such as vacations, cultural events, educational opportunities, and restaurant meals, reduce health related purchases order to pay transportation costs that could be avoided if infrastructure were built to sufficient levels," the report says.

The report says those costs come from lost wages because of time spent in congestion or on poor transit systems, and wear-and-tear caused on cars by rough roads.

On a macro level, those costs amount to 870,000 jobs or a $3.1 trillion suppression of the GDP before the decade is out.  Those costs to the general economy come chiefly from productivity lost from poor or badly functioning roads and transit systems.

Have a popsicle, everyone.

You can read the report here.


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