Friday, November 7, 2008

Alternative Fuels Lead to Alternative Funding

(from the October Editor's Note of AsphaltPro Magazine)

During my first sojourn into the asphalt industry, I worked for an entrepreneur named Bill Neeley. Bill would often come flying into my office, pull a chair up close to my desk, and say in a half-whisper, half-yawp, "Lady, I've got an idea!" Somehow, that half-whisper filled the room with electricity. No matter what the idea, something exciting was about to happen. Or…maybe something that would have to be handled delicately to bring Bill back down to reality. It depended on the idea, you know. One day Bill introduced me to a book called Only the Paranoid Survive by Andrew S. Grove.

That sounded about my speed.

The principle I came away with from the book was this: pay attention to what could be coming down the pike. Now, I want to put a different spin on it. I like to think of it as only the prepared survive. You never know when a great idea is going to affect your industry or your company or your little neck of the woods. In the case of the transportation industry, right now, these next few years, this election season, there's a lot to pay attention to. Bill's little book is stirring in the back of my mind as we watch the various factors that impact highway transportation funding.

Think about the marketplace. Drivers are sick of paying high prices at the gas pump, so they're driving less. Carpooling is back in vogue and family vacations lean closer to home. The less consumers put in their gas tanks, the less they put in the highway funding coffers.

Consider also the alternative fuels that keep new engines running cleanly and efficiently. With less taxable parts going in, there's less funding coming out.

Where do we make up the difference to keep highways and byways safe for the traveling public? Where do we make up the difference to keep American infrastructure strong and the workers building that infrastructure a part of the American economy? And when was the last time we defined "infrastructure" for the taxpayers who are casting their votes next month? One person's idea of infrastructure can encapsulate museums and schools. Let's get our terminology straight with some taxpayer and legislator education while we get our alternative funding ideas set as well. Already, contractors and DOT officials are coming together in places like Colorado and out east where forward thinkers are considering the ramifications of losing highway funding to the alternative fuels revolution. This strategic planning needs to take hold at our state and national meetings this winter. Now is a great time to take advantage of downtime and plan ahead for what's coming down the pike.

My friend Bill passed away a few months ago, and it broke my heart to hear of it. I'd like to think that if he's paying attention now, he'd be pleased to see this industry he was so involved in planning on surviving. I wouldn't say we're being paranoid, but being prepared. And that's survival of the fit.

Stay Safe,
Sandy Lender

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