Where’s the Plan?

The tragic Minnesota bridge collapse in July has focused attention on U.S. highway infrastructure problems. Those of us engaged in the transportation industry have been sounding the alarm for many years regarding the state of our nation’s highway infrastructure.

According to Market Analysis, the market research publication of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association (HDMA) and our parent organization the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA), the infrastructure problem can be attributed partly to lack of preventative maintenance and the lack of a long-term plan that addresses the capacity constraints conflicting with increased use of the highway systems.

This article notes that in the last 20 years, the amount of total drive time spent in congestion has increased by 18.5 percent to an estimated 32.6 percent of all drive time in 2006. With safety as a main concern, consider that this also represents significant waste in productivity and fuel economy. Despite the implementation of innovative strategies to reduce congestion and advances in technology that improves system operations and management, congestion continues to increase.

(Note: The full Market Analysis article, “U.S. Facing Infrastructure Crisis,” can be viewed online at http://www.mema.org/publications/articledetail.php?articleId=8290)

We in the commercial vehicle industry are painfully aware that highway transportation is hit hardest by congestion. This in turn significantly affects American industry and consumers, as transportation delays and the resulting increased costs are offset by cost increases in industrial and consumer goods.

The issue of the state and federal highway and interstate system needs to be elevated as a priority to keep our roads safe and our consumer and industrial goods moving. States need to do their part to correctly allocate their user fees; road tolls, fuel, and transportation related tax revenues to improve the overall infrastructure.

The federal and state governments need to work toward spending all of the billions in revenues generated from all of the user taxes and fees on the issues that they were intended when enacted as laws. Pet projects and fund diversions have taken away from our ability to adequately address capacity and maintenance issues with the roads and bridges in this nation.

This would be a good start, but the problem is massive. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the nation’s roads and bridges require $9.4 billion invested per year over the next 20 years or nearly $200 billion to be sufficiently maintained.

The American Highway Users Alliance (AHUA), which HDMA and other motor vehicle industry-related organizations support, claims that a quarter of all U.S. bridges need major work. The Highway Users notes that on a typical day, 118 people are killed on our nation’s roads—and estimate about one-third of those victims would have survived if road safety investments were made.

The group provides a direct link to the National Bridge Inventory on its Web site, www.highways.org, and has called on the Federal Highway Administration to simplify the inventory so that motorists can easily look up their local bridges.

Now is the time for our national and state elected officials to recognize their responsibilities in addressing this serious public safety issue.

Tim Kraus is Executive Director of the Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association. Prior to joining HDMA, he served as director of sales and marketing at Triseal Corp.