A single institutional body, chosen through consensus, would plan and fund transportation projects regardless of mode, and the number of federal transportation programs would be cut from 102 and reorganized into eight comprehensive, intermodal programs.

The plan would further expand opportunities for private-sector assistance by broadening Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act credit assistance and eliminating the cap on private activity bonds. In announcing the plan, Transportation Secretary Mary Peters referred to the $400 billion in private capital available worldwide through long-term infrastructure leases.

Regardless of what happens on the federal level, state and local sources already account for 75% of the $80 billion spent annually on transportation infrastructure. With at least 25 states expected to face budget shortfalls next year, the onus is on public works professionals to explain the value of streets, roads, and bridges to the public.

"Difficult decisions are approaching, and people need to be educated about these issues," says Frank Moretti, director of policy and research for The Road Improvement Program (TRIP), a nonprofit organization that promotes policies that relieve congestion, improve roads and air quality, and enhance productivity. "What's required is to educate elected officials and the public about the consequences of not maintaining highways and bridges versus the benefits of funding necessary repairs."

"The customer needs to be educated." In March, TRIP announced the results of research into the economic impact of the nation's transportation network: Poor road conditions add $64.7 billion annually to vehicle operating costs, an average of $322/driver. So in terms of cost-benefit analyses on infrastructure, constituents can get taxed at the pump or write a check to their local mechanic.