Our highway system was designed to accommodate only half the traffic it carries today. Yet, the transportation funding needed to fix our crumbling infrastructure is not keeping pace with the need, and it’s costly to drivers and the entire transportation industry. In 2013, for example, the number of hours that truck drivers spent parked or creeping along congested highways amounted to 16 years.
Congestion is costly
On average, a truck driver logs more than 100,000 miles each year. In fact, it would take the typical driver a year and a half to cover every mile of highway in the U.S., from federal interstates to rural state highways. Americans rely on the trucking industry and this infrastructure to keep our economy humming along, as drivers hauled more than 13 million tons of goods in the U.S. in 2013.
But congestion is always a problem, as trucks creep along on average at 40-some miles per hour in rush-hour traffic. Worse, 40 percent of truck drivers cited large cities such as Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta and St. Louis as points-of-origin or the destinations of 40 percent of drivers. All of these cities, except New York, are ranked in the top 25 as having the most congested highways. What is the economic impact of congestion? It amounted to $9.2 billion in the trucking industry in 2013, and a loss of 141 million driver hours.
A pothole in highway spending
One source of the problem is a lack of interest in investing in our infrastructure. There is a federal gas tax — 18.3 cents per gallon — from which $50 billion in revenues flow into the Highway Trust Fund. Yet, Congress routinely allocates roughly 6 percent of this money to highway and bridge projects. Considering that it costs roughly $4 million to expand one mile of interstate highway from four to six lanes, it’s easy to see that this fund is not is being used to ease congestion.
In fact, 20 percent of this fund goes toward transit, which affects five percent of commuters, according to the Heritage Foundation. Congress is also using this money to pay for politically popular projects at home, such as bike paths, sidewalks, historic preservation and beautification. In all, this fund is overspent to the tune of $15 billion a year, and still not enough of it goes toward actual transportation funding.
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