Urban drivers pay extra for poor condition of highways

Rough roads cost Americans an average of more than $400 a year in unnecessary repairs and additional vehicle operating costs, according to a report released this week by The Road Information Program.

Founded in 1971, TRIP is a nonprofit organization that promotes transportation policies that relieve traffic congestion, improve road and bridge conditions, improve air quality, make highway travel safer and enhance economic productivity.

TRIP’s national study, “Hold the Wheel Steady: America’s Roughest Rides and Strategies to Make our Roads Smoother,” challenged policymakers to make a renewed commitment to improve the condition of the nation’s highways.

Nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of the country’s major metropolitan roads – interstates, freeways and other critical local routes – have pavements “in poor condition, resulting in rough rides and costing the average urban motorist $402 annually” in additional vehicle costs.

The report, issued at a news conference Wednesday, identifies the top 20 urban regions (with populations of 500,000 or more) with the greatest share of major roads and highways with pavements in poor condition, and the top 20 urban regions where motorists pay the highest vehicle operating cost, because of highway conditions.

San Jose, Calif., has the highest percentage (64) of urban routes with poor pavement condition, followed by Los Angeles, Honolulu, Concord, Calif., San Francisco-Oakland and New Orleans. Not surprisingly, San Jose also recorded the highest vehicle operating cost at $756 annually per motorist. The top five also included, in order, Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland, Honolulu, Concord, Calif., and New Orleans.

“With state and local governments facing looming budget deficits and without a long-term federal surface transportation program in place, road conditions are projected to get even worse in the future,” said Will Wilkins, TRIP’s executive director. “Repairing rough urban roads could ease the burden on drivers and provide a smoother ride while creating jobs and boosting the economy.”

The FHWA found that every $1 billion invested in highway construction would support approximately 27,800 jobs, including approximately 9,500 in the construction sector, approximately 4,300 jobs in industries supporting the construction sector, and approximately 14,000 other jobs induced in non-construction related sectors of the economy.

According to the U.S. DOT, through 2025, the U.S. faces a $189 billion shortfall in the cost to maintain urban roadways in their current condition and a $375 billion shortfall in the cost to make significant improvements to urban roadways. State transportation funding is threatened by the continuing fiscal crisis in state budgets, which in fiscal year 2010 prompted a $74.4 billion reduction in overall state spending. States’ financial needs continue to far surpass expenditures, with the National Governors Association projecting total state shortfalls for 2010 – 2011 of more than $127 billion.

The lack of a long-term federal surface transportation program, which would provide a predictable level of federal funding, is impeding the ability of states to plan and implement large-scale rehabilitation and reconstruction projects.

Congress is debating over the long-range federal surface transportation program. The current program, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act – A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), was originally scheduled to expire on September 30, 2009. Following five short-term extensions by Congress, the legislation now expires on Dec. 31, 2010.

Highway preservation projects provide significant economic benefits by improving travel speeds, capacity, load-carrying abilities and safety, and reducing operating costs for people and businesses. Roadway repairs also extend the service life of a road, highway or bridge, which saves money by either postponing or eliminating the need for more expensive future repairs.

According to the TRIP report, transportation agencies can reduce pavement life cycle costs by adopting a pavement preservation approach that emphasizes making early initial repairs to pavement surfaces while they are still in good condition and the use of higher-quality paving materials, which reduces the cost of keeping roads smooth by delaying the need for costly reconstruction.

Published 9-24-2010