Fresh to the core

New funding program to boost safety effort

Focusing on our motto, “Safer Roads Save Lives,”
is the message that American Traffic Safety Services Association (ATSSA) staff
and volunteers are taking to Capitol Hill in support of the creation of a core
roadway safety program as a key element of TEA-21 reauthorization. And the
Senate, House of Representatives and White House are all listening. Each of
their proposals includes the creation of such a program, with funding between
$7.5 and $7.9 billion annually.

Although this is good news for our industry, we share our
members’ frustration with the continued delays in moving a bill through
Congress. Recent visits to our members have given me a first-hand look at what
many on the “front line” are experiencing in today’s tough
market. State after state has raided highway funds or reduced expenditures in
order to meet balanced budget requirements. Many local governments also have
felt the effect of three years of economic downturn.

ATSSA is responding not only by advocating for dedicated
funding for roadway safety as part of reauthorization, but also by trying to
bring new business ideas to our members. 

At the upcoming Annual Convention and Traffic Expo (San
Antonio, Texas, Jan. 30-Feb. 3), we’ll have a special session on
accessing nontraditional funding sources, including Section 402 and CMAQ funds.
Our biweekly newsletter, The Flash, now includes business leads on projects to
be undertaken at both the state and local level, as well as news regarding
funding initiatives that our members might want to support. And once
reauthorization is completed we will turn more attention and resources to
helping our members access those funds.

Our Capitol Hill office has enabled the ATSSA staff to work
directly with decision makers regarding TEA-21 and other relevant transportation
and safety issues. We opened this office in the heart of downtown Washington on
Pennsylvania Avenue nearly two years ago in order for our advocacy staff to
interact with members of Congress on a day-to-day basis. Through these efforts,
ATSSA has become a recognized and credible organization in the eyes of those we
have elected and others close to the issue. 

We also utilize ATSSA member products regularly to help tell
our story. ATSSA’s “Safety Solutions” CD-ROM, for example, is
still a popular item in demonstrating-in a few short minutes-what ATSSA members
do and how they help save lives. This video debuted nearly two years ago and
was delivered to all members of the transportation committees in both the House
and the Senate. It has since opened many doors and prompted many questions,
even at the local level. ATSSA member John Durkos, for example, has taken this
video to elementary schools to explain how ATSSA-member products help save
lives. The students John encountered found the presentation fun, informative
and educational.

Many other ATSSA members are taking similar steps. During
our annual legislative visits, ATSSA members are helping by personally
informing elected officials that roadways require specific funding for
safety-things like signs, stripes, guard rails and crash cushions. We also talk
with them about making work zones safer. 

This coming year, ATSSA plans a new feature during our
legislative visits, scheduled for April 20-21. We plan to hold a
“Technology Fair” right in the halls of Congress. We will invite
congressional members and their staffs to visit the fair to learn more about
our industry and what our members do.

I’d also like to touch briefly on another issue: a
recent proposal circulated on Capitol Hill that would have effectively crippled
the forthcoming minimum levels of retroreflectivity. ATSSA took the lead in
engaging other partners, including AARP, AAA, the American Highway Users
Alliance and the American College of Emergency Physicians, to oppose this
proposal and we will remain vigilant to make sure it is put to rest.

We have many efforts still in progress to help raise public
awareness of what our members are doing and to help motorists drive with
caution in work zones. As most of you know, ATSSA initiated National Work Zone
Awareness Week in partnership with the American Association of State Highway
& Transportation Officials and the Federal Highway Administration in 1999.
Now, nearly all states participate every April in some way to bring this issue
to the attention of the public and the media. National Work Zone Awareness Week
2004, by the way, is scheduled for April 4-10.

We have the National Work Zone Memorial that travels across
the country year-round as a lasting tribute to those who have lost their lives
in work zones, and we also support our own family through the Roadway Worker
Memorial Scholarship Program. If you know of a roadway worker who was killed or
is permanently injured as a result of a roadway work-zone accident, please
contact me so I can ensure scholarship program information is sent to that
worker’s family members immediately.

Our foundation has initiated a Work Zone Poster Contest for
elementary school-age children. This year we translated the winning posters
into a work-zone calendar. We’ve also developed a new Work Zone Violators
Training Course to make sure work-zone offenders get specific remedial
training-just like speeders and DUI offenders do. This course has proven
successful and popular in high school driver’s education classes, and the
Illinois DOT recently acquired 1,000 copies of the course for statewide
distribution.

Before closing, I extend an invitation to all Roads &
Bridges readers to attend ATSSA’s 34th Annual Convention and Traffic
Expo. This event will again be the largest single display of roadway safety
products and services in North America, and as always thousands of exhibitors,
guests and visitors are expected to attend. I encourage you to visit the
“Meetings and Events” link of www.atssa.com. There you can view the
schedules of events, accommodations and other superb activities we have
planned. This event is always a unique opportunity to meet your peers, network
and see the latest the roadway safety industry has to offer.

Finally, another recent ATSSA project will be introduced in
San Antonio. It’s a new work-zone safety video aimed directly at teen
drivers. Titled “In the Zone,” the video features NASCAR driver
Todd Bodine. The video is very entertaining, educational and loaded with
work-zone tips to ensure safe passage through work zones. Some of the
highlights of this new video will be shown during the Opening General Session
breakfast in San Antonio on Feb. 1.

I hope to see many of you during ATSSA’s 34th Annual
Convention and Traffic Expo in San Antonio beginning Jan. 30

Wentz is executive director of ATSSA, Fredericksburg, Va.

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