Compared to what?

As we continue our preparations for 2021, including the development of an updated action plan for our Steering Committee to review later this month, this seems as good a time as any to remind ourselves of some common principles, questions, and lenses.

As the title of this post suggests, “compared to what?” is a vital question and framework that underpins much of this business leadership group’s efforts.

“Compared to what?” is quick way of capturing the essential question of opportunity cost. Every proposed or actual policy has one and often many substitute, alternative, second-best choices, etc. in terms of resources, money, time, people, impact.

To be clear — that information is not always or even often completely knowable in advance. But the fact that we can’t have total certainty on the front end does not obviate us from asking the question.

Although it does give rise to a second question, that being, “what if I am / we are wrong?”  In other words, what are the consequences of the assumptions in our proposed policy not being correct? Like the first question, this is the realm of tradeoffs, and also risk management.

I bring these twin themes up because the regional business community will continue to grapple with a number of issues over the coming year where these and other lenses will be critical. These focus areas will likely include: sustainable funding for transportation, accelerating or maintaining implementation timelines for enhanced transit corridors including bus rapid transit and commuter rail, activating zero fare weekends, restoring the conditions for growth at RDU, and so on.

They are not easy issues, but they are worthy of the region. The biggest mistake we could make would be to pretend that tradeoffs don’t exist, or that asking questions like those above implies lack of support.

While one can debate issues to the point that paralysis by analysis sets in, stifling needed discussion on the front end inevitably leads to failed projects on the back end — either they don’t get built, or they shouldn’t have been. This research and innovation-based region invariably does better than that, and if we are going to continue to be successful, we will need to keep that practice up.

Let’s have great discussion, and let’s get moving.


Joe Milazzo II, PE
RTA Executive Director

RTA is the voice of the regional business community on transportation


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