Everyone is delighted that a long-term highway bill has finally been signed into law. But that’s far from solving all of our problems.
When Congress passed the five-year, $305 billion Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FACT) Act and President Obama signed it into law, those of us in the trucking industry breathed a sigh of relief. After experiencing one short-term, small-dollar extension after another, many of us were beginning to question whether this was becoming an “if” rather than a “when” situation.
But amidst the celebration of this event, there’s also the reality that major issues have not been addressed. Yes, existing roads and bridges will be fixed, and that’s certainly necessary for our damaged infrastructure. Another issue will be a push to add new highways where necessary and that’s where the concerns arise. I wrote an opinion piece for Transport Topics last month, “Find Ways to Make Better Use of US Highways,” that dealt with the concerns of the trucking industry.
I noted that the FAST Act seemed to be more focused on the motoring public’s agenda than on transportation industry issues. Better highways and bridges may be safer to drive on, but if the same congestion that we now experience persists, than our goals of getting our customers’ product to its destination continue to be impeded. It’s not just about adding roads or lanes; it’s about making those additions work to everyone’s advantage.
What if, instead, there were roads, or portions of roads dedicated to truck-only traffic. This would be especially helpful when in or near metropolitan areas where the worst congestion occurs. Even the bypasses that were built to go around cities have fallen victim to multiple choke points. There’s no reason why trucks need to be held up in rush-hour traffic since our drivers, specifically our over-the-road drivers, aren’t living a 9-to-5 life.
As I said in the opinion piece, I would imagine that fleet operators, given the option of paying “a fee or toll for use of a road that kept his cargo moving around a traffic choke point, he’d be more than willing to pay the price.” More efficient routing translates into greater productivity and that, in turn, translates into a better bottom line. But efficient routing is expensive. In an urban area, it can cost between $4 million and $6 million per mile to build a four-lane highway and about $4 million per mile to expand an existing interstate highway, whether it’s designed for trucks or cars.
Another suggestion is the use of reversible lanes, like those on Interstate 595 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Depending on the time of day, lanes are open for inbound traffic only and, depending on traffic flow, can be switched to accommodate outbound traffic only. What if those same lanes were designated as “truck-only” lanes during the busiest hours or as the need arises?
Fleet owners know that the fees and tolls that might be necessary would be offset by the savings realized in less fuel consumption, lower maintenance costs, and less drive time. Not to minimize the effect on car owners, but less trucks competing with cars for road space will lead to safer travel situations for all concerned.
We finally got the funding and the commitment. Now is the time for all of us in the industry and in government to find ways to make better use of our US highways.