Jan 1, 2007 12:00 PM
THE US transportation construction industry has a bold new vision to help address America's surface transportation challenges, and the federal government must continue to play a key role in ensuring a safe and efficient national road network in the post-Interstate Highway System era.
That was the message provided by Mike Walton, chairman of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), at a meeting in November 2006 of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission.
“Between now and 2043 — based on current highway investment and usage trends — US highway capacity will only grow 9%, but traffic levels will balloon by 135% to more than seven-trillion vehicle miles traveled annually,” Walton said. “As a result, the average motorist can expect to spend 160 hours stuck in traffic delays, or the equivalent of four weeks each year — a 112-hour-per-year increase in lost time from the current level.”
To address these needs now and ensure there are sufficient resources to maintain current conditions, Congress should be looking seriously at all options to generate new revenues for highway, bridge, and transit improvements, including an increase in the federal motor fuels tax, the ARTBA chairman said.
In the long-term, America needs a new national vision to facilitate the efficient and secure movement of people and freight, Walton added.
He shared with the commission a plan approved last September by the ARTBA Board of Directors that recommends revising the structure of the federal surface transportation program to consist of two separate, but equally important components:
The current highway and transit programs must be significantly better funded through the existing user fee structure and reformed to address future safety and mobility priorities.
They should focus attention and resources on upgrading and protecting the nation's enormous past investments in surface transportation infrastructure.
The federal government must initiate a new program, funded with new, “fire-walled” freight-related user fee mechanisms that over the next 25 years will greatly expand the capacity of the nation's intermodal transportation network. Its centerpiece would be the initiation of a well-funded “Critical Commerce Corridors (3C) Program” aimed at improving freight movement and emergency response capabilities.
“The result of this initiative would be a national strategy directed at the growing dilemma of efficiently moving freight,” Walton said. “This challenge is about more than congestion, bottlenecks, and delayed deliveries. It is about securing America's place in the global competitive market. If we fail to act in a meaningful way, our position as world economic leader may be at risk.
“The nation's transportation obstacles are not insurmountable. Unfortunately, however, we are out of easy answers. We must utilize all available options to meet these needs and we must do so in a holistic manner that capitalizes on the synergy from all the pieces of our surface transportation infrastructure network. The federal government is uniquely positioned to play a leadership role, not only in promoting alternatives, but in delivering tangible resources and direction to meet the nation's transportation needs.”
According to the Census Bureau, the US population is expected to reach 400 million people by 2043. This reality will have serious consequences for the future mobility of motorists.
The movement of freight also will be greatly impeded by inadequate transportation capacity. Walton cited a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) report showing that bottlenecks are causing trucks more than 243-million hours of delay annually, at a cost of nearly $8 billion. “If the US economy grows at a conservative annual rate of 2.5% to 3% over the next 20 years, domestic freight tonnage will almost double and the volume of freight moving through the largest international gateways may triple or quadruple,” the FHWA report says.
“Without new strategies to increase capacity, congestion at freight bottlenecks on highways may impose an unacceptably high cost on the nation's economy and productivity.”
In the short-term, the federal Highway Trust Fund is facing a severe cash crisis, and maintaining surface transportation investment levels in the future is in serious doubt, Walton told the commission.
Highway traffic burgeons
HIGHWAY traffic congestion burgeoned as Americans' odometers neared three trillion miles during 2005, according to data from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).
The figures represent a 27.4-billion-mile increase over travel in 2004 and nearly 25% more than ten years earlier. In the highway mix were registrations of 1.9 million truck-tractors and 5.3 million commercial trailers.
The FHWA report, which consists of statistical data on motor fuel, motor vehicles, driver licensing, highway-user taxation, and state and local government highway finance, has been produced each year since 1945. The report can be viewed on the FHWA Web site at fhwa.dot.gov.
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