Specifically, the rules state that counterplans:
The negative may present one counterproposal specific to the affirmative problem area. By this, we mean that the counterproposal must deal with the problem area defined by the affirmative, and not the form of government, economic system, or need for further study (UNLESS SPECIFICALLY IDENTIFIED AS A KEY ISSUE IN THE RESOLUTION). Counterproposals should be used to demonstrate that a reasonable alternative plan would be better policy than either the status quo or the affirmative plan. Counterproposals should be logically consistent with all other negative arguments constructed during the debate. If inconsistencies arise and the affirmative points them out, the judge should reject the arguments inconsistent with the counterproposal. Counterproposals must be non-topical and are subject to the same burdens of solvency as are required for affirmative plans. Source
The affirmative will lay out a harms scenario and propose that the solution is based on transportation infrastructure – building more roads, changing highways, etc… But the negative can then propose in a counterplan that the harms scenario is better solved without changing our infrastructure but our land use policies.
The auctioning off all highways in the NFA-LD Coop evidence set would be an example of this type of counterplan. The counterplan is not changing anything with the actual highways, just who owns them. Here is one of the arguments from that counterplan:
The counter-plan is non-topical: We are reforming transportation management, in the sense of who owns the roads, rather than transportation infrastructure, which would be a physical change in the roads themselves.
The key here is that you must frame the topic as requiring the affirmative to change the physical transportation infrastructure itself. The Definition Database contains 3 definitions for the term transportation infrastructure. I prefer the 3rd one the best but with a different tag:
Transportation infrastructure is a physical system, such as highway, road, airport, railway and waterway, used to transport people and goods
American Public Works Association. "Infrastructure Facts." February 7, 2007, http://www.apwa.net/documents/advocacy/infrastructure%20facts.pdf
America’s transportation system is one of the world’s most extensive, and includes highways, roads, airports, railways, and waterways. Public Works Departments maintain our transportation infrastructure so that people and goods can travel with ease.
With this definition the affirmative must build or rebuild a transportation infrastructure system that is physical. The negative, on the other hand, can leave everything physical the same but simply tinker with the way that we use them.
For example, an affirmative plan might be to widen major interstate freeways from 4 lanes to 5 lanes across the country to ease congestion. However, the negative, while leaving the 4 lane freeways in place, could institute congestion pricing much like London has done.
Since February 2003 the city of London has charged a fee for driving private automobiles in its central area during weekdays as a way to reduce traffic congestion and raise revenues to fund transport improvements. This has significantly reduced traffic congestion, improved bus and taxi service, and generates substantial revenues. Public acceptance has grown and there is now support to expand the program to other parts of London and other cities in the U.K. This is the first congestion pricing program in a major European city, and its success suggests that congestion pricing may become more politically feasible elsewhere. Source
Here is an article discussing the benefits from congestion pricing in London. Now, you would probably not be able to funnel the money back into infrastructure improvements but you could use the money to offset any impact on poor people not being able to pay for the congestion pricing.
I think this is an entirely reasonable interpretation for the following three reasons:
- Reasonable: The aff gets to reform the physical infrastructure system through its plan such as rebuilding roads or creating new systems like high speed rail. The negative, on the other hand, has to leave the infrastructure system alone but reform the use of that infrastructure. It would be akin to a situation where your car is not working well. The aff could buy a new car whereas the negative could simply drive the car less frequently or not as fast. The resolution could have easily used the word policy in place of infrastructure but instead specifies infrastructure for the affirmative.
- Real World: It makes sense that there is a real world choice between building or rebuilding systems and changing how we use the ones we have. It would make perfect sense in policy analysis to say “wait, we don’t need to add 5 more lanes of highway, we need to use the existing infrastructure system but change the way we use them.”
- Good division of ground: this interpretation gives the affirmative a ton of room to change the infrastructure whereas the negative gets to change the use policies. This division means that the negative can have some good generic ground on any affirmative plan since the affirmative will have to deal with tangible physical infrastructure whereas the negative can deal with the use policies – whether it be roads, air, rail or sea infrastructure. This interpretation gives a good balance to the two sides.
This would enable the negative debater to have a generic use policy counterplan for any of the major transportation systems (say, roads, rails, air and sea) and counter any affirmative plan that reforms the physical infrastructure.
Please share your thoughts! Is this a good interpretation of the topic? A good negative strategy?