Public Opinion

25 September 2013

Arecent Article in the Wall Street Journal extolled the brilliance of the international tunnelling community -a fantastic PR opportunity of which most businesses and industries could only dream.

Far too often, mainstream media coverage of tunnelling involves battles over costs and funding, and concerns about protection, be it for the environment or for citizens' quality of life during construction. This is especially true when it comes to transportation projects. The connotations are almost always negative and the number behind the dollar sign, no matter the context, always too high.

There are plenty of ways to pitch a project to a community's publications and other media outlets, and many clients do well promoting the number of jobs created and the successful deadlines achieved to local constituents. Profiles of smaller companies in the community who are involved, such as precast concrete companies, help reinforce the positive message, and further educate the public on how tunnels are built.

When it comes to the uninformed, it's okay to "try to claim anything as a record," to borrow a phrase from the article.

Here's why: According to the 2011 Rockefeller Foundation Transportation Survey, there is overwhelmingly strong support for further investment in transportation (93 per cent). In the same survey 80 per cent agreed that "increased federal funding to improve and modernise transportation would boost the economy and create millions of jobs in construction, manufacturing and engineering". A majority of those surveyed, however, did not support raising the federal gas tax nor adding more tolls to highways and bridges.

These results are contradictory, and The Rockefeller Foundation suggests an explanation: voters want investment in infrastructure, they just don't trust the government to do it. Two-thirds of the respondents, and across all political leanings, felt government investment in infrastructure was done at least "somewhat" inefficiently and unwisely.

More than ever the tunnelling industry needs to stay on message, and push for a stronger, better and more positively well-known reputation. The funding gaps for infrastructure will work themselves out, whether through desperation (think the I-35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis) or through more pro-active methods.

Look at Canada and its success with public private partnerships (PPP). An overwhelming majority of Canadians (87 per cent) still believe that their federal, provincial and municipal governments are not keeping pace with demand for new or improved public infrastructure and services, according to the Canadian Council for public private partnerships. Annual polls between 2004 and 2008 continually showed two-thirds agreeing, "it is time to use PPPs to address this infrastructure and service deficit."

Voters in two different countries see the same problem, but one of those countries has an actual solution that two-thirds of voters stand behind. While the other has two-thirds of a population still in doubt. The tunnelling industry needs to present itself as an effective and ef_ cient solution to transportation and all types of infrastructure, biding time until the government finds a way to do the same