State Highway Infrastructure and the Trucking Industry

large_7837086434For many motorists, repairing and improving state highways means one thing: inconvenience. After all, state highways don’t have as many diverse ways of adapting to reduced traffic patterns that their interstate cousins do, so they can be crippled by construction traffic quite easily.

State highways are, however, important to our nation’s trucking industry, which is the very thing that keeps America up and running. Without roads there are no trucks and without trucks there are no goods, and by all reports America’s roads are not in good shape.

The Bad News

According to a report from Building America’s Future, traffic jams cost American commuters 4.2 billion hours and around 2.8 million gallons of gas per year due to lack of roads. The same report states that decaying transportation systems cost us 78 billion dollars in lost time and fuel.

Worse still, that study reports that somewhere near a third of highway fatalities are related to “substandard road conditions, obsolete road designs, or roadside hazards.” Finally, a Pew Research study notes that almost one third of America’s roads are in less than acceptable condition.

That’s bad for regular motorists, but it’s even worse for long haul truckers. Bad road conditions are much more likely to slow a trucker down or cause minor damage to his vehicle. These obstacles are harder for him to avoid.

In addition, trucks don’t get great fuel economy in the first place—couple that with the fuel/time cost from degenerating roads and the money adds up. That money has to come from somewhere, and chances are it’s going to come from the American consumer and truckers themselves. Traffic accidents involving regular motorists are difficult for truckers to avoid, and a stranded truck can spell out either an accident or severe time delay for the average commuter.

The point is this—if trucks are encountering problems on a stretch of road, then everyone else is encountering problems on that same stretch of road.

  • Traffic jams cost Americans 4.2 billion hours and 2.8 million gallons of gas per year.
  • One third of highway fatalities are related to poor road conditions.
  • One third of American roads are in less than acceptable condition.

The Good News

The American Recovery and Reinvestment (AARA) act provided states with much-needed money for road repair, but how is it coming along and what does it mean for the trucking industry?

It’s somewhat unclear at the moment since so many states got off to such a slow start in spending the money to improve infrastructure. After all, contractors and workers had to be hired and plans had to be made. Some of the states with the highest unemployment rates were the most sluggish to start construction, but things seem to be moving along.

Washington State has invested 99.81% of its ARRA funds allocated for highway improvements and has created or saved nearly 6000 jobs, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. Florida is busy building new onramps and looking at strategies to move congestion from the interstate onto less crowded highways to improve both road quality and traffic patterns.

Other states are replacing asphalt with gravel roads, which are easier to maintain. Both Texas and Washington are looking at reevaluating speed limits on highways to improve congestion problems and allow smoother travel for long haul truckers—though the American Trucking Association (ATA) doesn’t agree with the speed hike on Texas State Highway 130, many truckers do.

Though the ARRA money can’t single-handedly save our state highways, it seems to be putting a good dent into some of the repair work. State highways are important because they provide valuable alternate routes for truckers, which help to take congestion off of the interstate.

If state highways are in bad repair, however, it’s dangerous to both the trucking industry and to truckers themselves. All of this road work might be inconvenient right now, but it will prove to be very convenient in the future.

  • Washington State has invested 99.81% of ARRA funds for road repairs, thus saving nearly 6000 jobs.
  • Florida is moving congestion from the interstate to less crowded highways.
  • Other states are replacing asphalt with gravel roads.
  • Speed limits across the country are being reevaluated to improve roadways.

Submitted by: Hank Barton is a second generation trucker-philosopher with a penchant for the written word. He enjoys blogging about long haul trucking, safe driving practices and life on the open road. He writes for E-Gears, an online CDL Test authority that specializes in a variety of study guides.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/truckerdan/7837086434/“>Trucker Dan</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com“>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/“>cc</a>