Measuring the desire for higher quality roads

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The Asphalt Pavement Alliance (APA) contracted with polling firm Edelman Berland to conduct a survey of 3,085 drivers, including commercial truckers, from eight regions throughout the U.S. back in March to find out what they desired most when it comes to roadways in this country: better maintenance, adding capacity to existing roads, or just building new roads altogether.

From the perspective of the APA – a partnership between the Asphalt Institute, National Asphalt Pavement Association and the State Asphalt Pavement Associations – discerning from drivers themselves where roadway funding should be spent will help lawmakers on Capitol Hill in their transportation reauthorization efforts.

[For fun, check out this time-lapse video of a three-day highway repaving project conducted by the Oregon Department of Transportation last July.]

According to APA’s poll, U.S. drivers are increasingly frustrated with the state of U.S. roads to the point where they prefer well-maintained, safe, and smooth roadways versus additional capacity and even new roads.

Here are some of the survey details:

  • Some 84% of drivers overall and 73% of commercial truckers want well-maintained roads without the inconvenience of roadway shutdowns by having maintenance performed during off-peak hours and the road open for rush hour.
  • When presented with 14 factors for officials to consider when building a road, 56% of drivers selected safety as one of their top three priorities.
  • Most drivers (69%) said they are willing to accept periodic maintenance delays if it means they get to enjoy a “smooth driving” experience.
  • Some 86% of drivers overall and 78% of commercial truckers feel spending priorities should focus on the maintenance and repair of existing roads, rather than on building new roads.
  • A majority – some 51% of drivers overall and 52% of truckers – support new or additional funding mechanisms to ensure adequate funding for roadway maintenance and construction.

"These results emphasize the need to increase investment in our nation's aging infrastructure and to put a greater emphasis on ensuring a consistent level of drivability for road users," noted Mike Acott, NAPA’s president, in a statement.

I also talked with T. Carter Ross, NAPA’s vice president of communications, by phone regarding the APA survey results and one of his takeaways from this poll is that roadways need to be viewed from a more “holistic” perspective going forward.

“It’s not just about being able to handle traffic volumes – it’s about the quality of the ride roadways provide for drivers, and that ‘quality’ includes noise levels as well,” Ross told me. “The smoothness and ‘rideablity’ of roadways also helps extend their lifespan plus reduces wear-and-tear on vehicles.”

[One method being explored more frequently to gain such “quality” at a lower cost is the use of “warm mix” asphalt versus the traditional “hit mix” style.]

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this survey to is mind, though, is that drivers overall – but truck drivers in particular – are far more willing to consider paying more for roadways either through tolls, higher fuel taxes, or other funding mechanisms, in order to get better ride quality.

“We were a little surprised by that, particular  on the trucker side of the survey, but it really makes sense: drivers are really looking at improving the quality of roads first and foremost,” Ross explained to me. “And good maintenance is really going to provide that quality."

We’ll see if that view holds up as new “revenue mechanisms” are expected to be fostered in increasing numbers at the local, state, and federal level in the not-so-distant future.

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