Why you need to be on your legislator’s speed dial

For the last few years, I feel like I’ve implored you, dear readers, to get involved for various reasons – to help pass highway bills, raise the gas tax, fix the highway trust fund, etc., until you’re probably tired of me asking.

But recently, as I attended my own local gathering, the Wisconsin Asphalt Pavement Association’s (WAPA) Annual Conference & Business Meeting (thanks again, Brandon Strand, for helping to make that happen!) in Madison, WI, more reasons for getting involved became abundantly clear.

Some reasons to attend these local meetings, like networking with peers and timely educational sessions on topics such as thin asphalt overlays, high recycle projects and sustainability, are obvious.

The less obvious reasons came as speaker after speaker told those of us in attendance how critical it is for our side to be heard.

We all know there’s a need for more funding for our roads, highways and bridges in this country. Our infrastructure, as President Obama recently said, is downright embarrassing when compared to other industrialized countries around the world. And we all understand the importance of transportation to keep our economy competitive and growing.

Your friends and neighbors, however, may not see the correlation so easily. All they hear is that the gas tax might go up just as prices are becoming reasonable. The general public needs to be educated on the highway funding issue – why it’s important to them and their daily needs. These are the times we need to evangelize our point of view. We all have a stake in solving these problems.

The need to get involved locally expands beyond becoming involved with your local asphalt association. Foster partnerships with your local municipalities. As Mark Gottlieb, Secretary of WisDOT, who spoke during WAPA’s opening session, emphasized, “We’re all doing our best to deliver a program that benefits everyone and improves our transportation. Help us tell the story and partner with your local decision makers to improve innovation.”

Another speaker, Mike Huebsch, Secretary of Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA) under Gov. Scott Walker, gave the audience some homework – get to know your legislator and become their expert. I’m passing this homework on to you.

In Wisconsin, out of 99 legislators, 70 of them will be new in the next term. That’s a lot of new faces and a steep learning curve to overcome, says Huebsch, but it’s also a great opportunity to establish yourself as the local connection that has the knowledge and background they need to help make road building and transportation decisions.

Another great idea - invite the young DOT engineers to your jobsite to help them gain real-world experience into what works and what doesn’t. It’s imperative to build that partnership with new and existing staff to ensure your side of the story is heard.

As Huebsch sums up, “Make sure you’re the one on their speed dial.”