Infrastructure & safety

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If America is to continue competing in the global economic marketplace, we need an efficient and sound infrastructure; we need the commitment of greater federal resources to help counties and states meet these pressing needs.” -Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell


State and local government officials are increasingly adding their voices - and a whole lotta dollars - to the issues surrounding highway infrastructure needs. Concern is growing not only about the poor shape most of our nation‘s roads and bridges are in, but also about the safety of those using said roads and bridges.


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Of course, at the end of the day, it all comes down to money: who‘s going to foot the bill for maintaining and expanding our roadways networks, much less beef up safety programs aimed at reducing the injuries and deaths America sustains every year while driving on them?


For example, Pennsylvania Governor Rendell joined with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to form the non-partisan “Building America‘s Future” coalition to raise awareness of the enormity of the infrastructure crisis facing the country - yet also seek increased federal funding to solve these programs.


“In the past 20 years, state and local governments across the country have been picking up more of the tab to build, maintain and expand the facilities and infrastructure people rely on,” Governor Rendell said. “Without adequate infrastructure to quickly and safely move goods and people, our economy and traffic will stop dead in its tracks ... [and] we will have a much tougher job competing in the world markets.”


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Rendell and the Commonwealth's legislature are putting up some serious money to jump-start that process in his state, to the tune of an additional $350 million to speed the repair of 411 structurally deficient bridges throughout Pennsylvania. However, despite increased funding, Pennsylvania leads the nation with more than 6,000 structurally deficient bridges, which, while safe, are in need of maintenance to avoid being closed or posted with weight restrictions.


“This is a step in the right direction in repairing Pennsylvania‘s structurally deficient bridges and, although we still have a lot of work ahead of us, these additional dollars will help the commonwealth restore or replace vital transportation links,” he said.


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On the safety side of things, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) is pushing for a slew of changes to the federal behavioral highway safety programs that‘ll be part of the upcoming highway reauthorization debate.


Chris Murphy, the GHSA‘s chairman, testified before the U.S. Congress this week that there are several specific measures state governors want to either add to the federal highway ledger or keep in place, such as:


-- A comprehensive national strategic highway safety plan involving all levels of the government and the private sector. Federal highway safety programs have been developed in a piecemeal fashion, without an overall plan. GHSA echoes the recent recommendations of the National Surface Transportation and Revenue Policy Study Commission in proposing a national highway safety strategic plan and national highway safety goals.

-- The goal of zero fatalities. The loss of one life is one too many. Over time, and with education, enforcement, safety infrastructure improvements, vehicle improvements, and technological advances, such an ambitious goal can be achieved.

-- A new speed management incentive grant. Speeding is a factor in an estimated one-third of all crashes, and costs society an estimated $40 billion annually, Murphy said. Reducing speed not only saves lives, but it also saves energy. A new speed management program should provide incentives for states that undertake speed enforcement, conduct speed management workshops, implement automated speed enforcement programs, or conduct public information campaigns about speeding.

-- A drunk driving program based on known effective countermeasures. Some criteria for the Section 410 drunk driving incentive grant program have been ineffective or proven too difficult to implement, and many states may soon fall out of compliance. GHSA suggests the program be refocused on known effective countermeasures such as high visibility enforcement, DUI [‘Driving Under the Influence‘] courts and judicial education.

-- A single occupant protection program. GHSA recommends the only modestly successful Section 406 primary seat belt incentive grant program be combined with the existing occupant protection and child passenger protection programs to form a single program. Funds should be allocated based on a number of criteria such as seat belt use rates, fatality rates of unbelted drivers, and primary seat belt and booster seat law enactment.

-- Maintaining the National Minimum Drinking Age (NMDA) . While GHSA does not generally support new sanctions, it vigorously opposes any effort to overturn this existing sanction, which stipulates that any state not enforcing the minimum drinking age of 21 be subjected to a 10% decrease in its annual federal highway apportionment. According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly 25,000 teen traffic deaths have been prevented since the enactment of the NMDA.


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All of the above efforts - from roadway infrastructure rehabilitation and expansion to safety programs - are going to cost big money, for sure; money that will be extremely tough to come by as the federal government faces (among MANY other challenges!) a nearly $10 TRILLION deficit. It‘ll be interesting to see if that cost hurdle can be surmounted in the months ahead, as a new president and new congressional caucus takes center stage.

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