We've all seen it: highways turned into parking lots as cars, trucks, and anything with wheels jockey for position in a slow-moving procession to various destinations. With vehicle traffic expected to continue its upward trend, the American Trucking Associations has answered the call-to-arms and lobbied Congress to increase highway funding and expand capacity.
Freight-hauling truckers can relate to today's highway deficiencies. Lumbering tractor-trailers and box trucks are especially susceptible to heavy traffic conditions, often victimized by inherently longer stopping distances, indecisive motorists, and late-brakers.
Tim Lynch, ATA senior VP, represented the trade group before the U.S. House of Representatives' Appropriates subcommittee on transportation, housing and urban development, and related agencies.
"An efficient highway system is the key to a fluid global supply chain, which in turn is a fundamental element of a growing and prosperous economy. (But) the U.S. has been living off the transportation infrastructure built by past generations. Our failure to keep up with the demands imposed on these systems by population and economic growth has weakened the nation's competitive position relative to other countries."
Over the last three decades, highway traffic has nearly doubled but national capacity has expanded by a scant four percent, according to Greg Cohen, American Highway Users Alliance president and CEO.
"It's a real shame we are taking our highways and mobility for granted in this country," Cohen said. "This isn't just a trucking problem, either -- it affects all motorists. Highway bottlenecks and traffic congestion affects everyone's daily life."
The aging highway infrastructure costs nearly $100 billion in annual congestion charges, according to Lynch. Yet an Environmental Defense Fund report titled "The Good Haul: Freight Innovations for the 21st Century" found the daily national freight volume will exceed 90 million tons by 2020, a 70-percent increase from 2002. Freight-hauling trucks currently move 70 percent of the nation's freight tonnage, with the percentage only projected to increase in the future as the economy continues its rebound and growth.
"Eliminating bottlenecks on our highways and at our ports and border crossings will greatly enhance America's competitive positioning," Lynch said. "But failing to address growing congestion problems will cause costs to rise, translating into higher consumer prices and slower job growth, weakening the U.S. ability to compete in the global economy."
ATA supports a multi-pronged approach to repair and expand national highway infrastructure. In addition to higher fuel taxes, ATA reports that many trucking companies are willing to support increased highway user fee payments, assuming the revenue would fund critical highway projects.
The group also endorses a federal-state partnership to reform truck sizes and weights in hopes of improving commercial-truck efficiency. The end result would be higher-capacity freight trucks, helping to maintain or reduce future truck fleets.
"Highways will continue to play a vital role in our nation's supply chain," Lynch said. "However, the highway system no longer meets our nation's demands."