Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Revenue Box

Those of us that work on the public infrastructure side of our profession are fully aware of "The Revenue Box." It is the place where all tax revenue goes - - prior to disbursement for public infrastructure improvement and upgrades. We never had to worry about the box - - it was a big box - - full of other people's money. The box historically had little if no competition - - no wars to siphon off funds, no out of control health care, no underfunded entitlement programs. Our country had relatively new infrastructure - - the box fit the requirements for our modest needs. But "The Revenue Box" was also a product of our imagination - - a world of low taxes and low user fees combined with a blindness of our aging infrastructure. Call it habit or conditioning - - the engineering community saw "The Revenue Box" as the ultimate symbol of our status quo. It had always been there and will always be there because it had always been there. It would always be full - - because it had always been full. But then you wake and read the following last Friday in The Dallas Morning News: "We need more revenue sources," said Ted Houghton of El Paso, one of five Texas Transportation Commission member. "It's got to come from somewhere." The box is too small? The box is too limiting? Our box - - the box that defines are needs and wants, has to be different? We have never really looked into the box - - it is large, and complex, and terribly outside our comfort zone. We design bridges - - someone always just opened "The Revenue Box" - - we have never imagined the world inside the box. We all should get very comfortable with "The Revenue Box" very quickly. You want to design that new bridge - - 200 firms can design the bridge. Talk innovation, high tech materials, and critical path improvements - - but the reality is no money, no bridge. No innovative money ideas = no bridge. The truly innovative aspects of this will be the firms that crawl into "The Revenue Box" - - the ones that can navigate the complex world of the political, the legal, the economic, and the public relation wars. You want your new bridge design - - figure out a way to pay for it. Let's utilize satellite tolling technology with the tolling technology embedded in the vehicle registration sticker (George Orwell just rolled over in his grave and science fiction writer William Gibson is smiling and thinking, "I told you so!!"). Crossing the bridge will cost you money - - because your new bridge that you utilize to get across the river to your place of employment costs money to design, build, and operate - - and you really like your low taxes. Lift up the lid to "The Revenue Box" - - we had all better get very comfortable with the idea of jumping in the box and making things happen. Remember - - "It's got to come from somewhere."

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