Rough ride for roads

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"Rough roads lead to diminished safety, higher vehicle operating costs and more expensive road repairs. It costs $1 to keep a road in good shape for every $7 you would have to spend on reconstruction. It's another drag on the economy.” –Kirk Steudle, director, Michigan Department of Transportation

The ever-worsening shape of our roads in this country is costing all drivers – truckers and the average motorist alike – a lot of extra money that could be better spent elsewhere.

Yet at the same time, we’ve got to be extra careful when we start counting out the dollars to pay for roadway maintenance and repair now and in the future, for America’s balance sheet is rapidly piling up the red ink. That’s going to be the challenge for us as a nation where our roads are concerned going forward.

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According to a new report entitled “Rough Roads Ahead: Fix Them Now or Pay for It Later” released today by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and The Road Information Program (TRIP), driving on rough roads costs the average American motorist approximately $400 a year in extra vehicle operating costs.

Along with that, drivers living in urban areas with populations over 250,000 are paying upwards of $750 more annually because of accelerated vehicle deterioration, increased maintenance, additional fuel consumption, and tire wear caused by poor road conditions, the report claims.

Based on statistics compiled by the federal government for all 50 states, the “rough road” study offers some disheartening factoids:

• About 30 to 60 percent of the roads in the nation's largest urban areas are in poor condition.

• Roughly 61 percent of rural roads are in good condition.

• Some 72 percent of the Interstate highway system is in good condition, but age, weather conditions and burgeoning traffic are eroding ride quality.

The report also pointed out that traffic growth has far outpaced highway construction, particularly in major metropolitan areas – not something that’ll surprise many truckers out there, I am sure.

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The number of miles driven in this country jumped more than 41 percent from 1990 to 2007 – from 2.1 trillion miles in 1990 to 3 trillion in 2007 – and in some parts of the country, dramatic population growth has occurred without a corresponding increase in road capacity, placing enormous pressure on roads that – in many cases – were built 50 years ago.

"Our nation has invested $1.75 trillion in our public highway system over the past 50 years," noted John Horsley, AASHTO’s executive director. "We hope Congress will make it possible for the federal government to sustain its share of the increased investment needed to keep America's roads in good condition. If not, it will cost the American people billions more later on."

Still, with the federal government burdened with $11 trillion worth of debt – a number that keeps on rising – paying for all of these repairs is going to be a challenge. Will it be from higher fuel taxes? Highway user fees? Or other forms of taxation, both at the state and federal level? Certainly, the roughness of our roads needs to be smoothed away. Paying for that process is going to be the real trick, though.

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Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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