TransComm preview: Five transportation stories that will shape the year ahead

With AASHTO Subcommittee on Transportation Communications annual meeting next week in Raleigh, NC, it is worth noting a few of the stories that are likely to be part of the conversations. Please remember, this blog does not offer political commentary. This list simply acknowledges some important stories that transportation communications professionals have a high chance of managing in the coming year.

Funding: Most transportation industry interests hailed the passage of MAP-21 earlier this year. It was a two-year bill that funded transportation at current levels. While it was not considered a perfect bill – some remain concerned about the programmatic restructuring for enhancement programs – it at least offered a small window of funding certainty. Now Congress has passed a six-month CR to keep the federal government-funded, only the CR did not include MAP-21 funding levels.

We are left with two major issues to watch. First, Congress will have the opportunity to fully fund MAP-21 during the upcoming post-election lame duck session. It will have to do that in the context of several pressing issues, among them a new agriculture bill and sequestration. Second, as crazy as it sounds, we are fast approaching time to start discussing another, post-MAP-21, transportation bill. Regardless of where you land in the transportation sector, it is never too early to consider your strategy for making the case that the United States should continue to invest in its transportation infrastructure.

MAP-21 Implementation: For being only a two-year bill, there was quite a bit of reform in the new legislation (Transportation Issues Daily has an excellent MAP-21 learning center). From a communications perspective, perhaps the most interesting area to watch is performance measures. And, there is a freight planning component that has received significant interest, as has the restructuring of enhancement programs. As transportation agencies work with their federal partners to implement the bill, expect there to be more items that earn more discussion. At the end of the day, how well MAP-21 works as  law will determine the kinds of discussions we have around a new bill.

Toward Zero Deaths: There are few goals more worthy than completely eliminating fatal and disabling auto crashes from our transportation system. Toward Zero Deaths is a national strategy on highway safety that is heavily supported by FHWA, AASHTO and dozens of other state departments of transportation and traffic safety organizations. Whether it is called TZD, Toward Zero Deaths or something else, traffic safety for drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and all transportation system users will remain an important topic for transportation communicators to understand. It is impossible to spend too much time learning and supporting your individual agency programs supporting safety advocacy.

Connected vehicles: The concept of linking together vehicles with other vehicles and vehicles with roadway infrastructure is fast-moving from the laboratory to the real-world. Already the federal government, along with local states, are testing a variety of technologies and strategies designed to test vehicle-t0-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) safety improvements. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expected to issue its agency decision in 2013 that will likely include several options such as: will regulate connected vehicle technologies; will it regulate new options in vehicles; or, will it recommend additional research and testing. These are potentially big decisions for states that maybe have not watched closely the development of the national connected vehicle program.

Distracted driving: No one wants to admit being that person – the one with the cell phone on their lap, reading emails while sitting in traffic. Or, the person who insists on making a telephone call, phone to the ear, even while driving too fast through a school zone. And that is perhaps the crux of the issue. We want to stamp out distracted driving in others.

Give credit to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and other high-profile transportation leaders for making this critically important safety issue top-of-mind on the national consciousness.  Despite their efforts, distracted driving is not subsiding. That’s why you should expect distracted driving to continue to be one of the most discussed and debated national transportation issues in the coming year.

Those are my top five topics we’ll hear discussed in the coming year. Others stories that could be in the top 10 include a national freight policy as the Panama Canal widening begins to reshape freight flows internationally; the future of high-speed passenger rail in the United States; the continued evolution of urban areas to make more bike and pedestrian friendly travel options; the influence of social media on the public involvement process; and, climate change and its impact on transportation systems especially anticipating more severe weather events.

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Author: Lloyd Brown

I am the director of communications for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. I enjoy running marathons and triathlons, playing guitar and spending time with family. My professional interest is in how social media and new technology shapes the communication relationship between government and the general public. I have a Master’s degree in Communications and Leadership from Gonzaga University in Spokane and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Washington State University.

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