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Graves: Infrastructure Health Essential to the Economy

As Congress takes up the surface transportation reauthorization bill, it’s important to consider the vital role that highway infrastructure plays in our economy.

[IMGCAP(1)]The National Highway System carries 40 percent of all U.S. traffic and 75 percent of truck traffic. Its strength is essential to our freedom and the quality of life that we enjoy in the U.S.

America relies on trucks to deliver nearly 100 percent of our consumer goods and 70 percent of our nation’s freight tonnage. Highways are the lifeline for the 80 percent of U.S. communities that are served solely by truck for freight transportation.

Over the past 25 years, the number of registered vehicles has increased more than 50 percent, yet new road miles have grown by less than 5 percent and lane capacity has increased by just 6 percent. Because of this, traffic congestion has become a major threat to our nation’s productivity.

According to the Texas Transportation Institute, congestion annually costs the U.S. economy $87.2 billion in the form of 4.2 billion lost hours and 2.8 billion gallons of wasted fuel. The American Trucking Associations supports the establishment of a dedicated freight program, paid for by freight users, to address the congestion caused by highway bottlenecks and to fund corridor expansion or network routes designed to address long-term needs.

In short, freight dollars going to freight projects. Dedicating funds for projects that reduce congestion and alleviate critical choke points in major freight corridors aids the economy and the environment by increasing shipping efficiency and reducing fuel consumption. If key congestion bottlenecks were eliminated, the trucking industry alone could save 4.1 billion gallons of fuel over 10 years and 45.2 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

The federal government, in consultation with state and local government and private-sector stakeholders, must tie federal funding to the fulfillment of broad national goals in order to ensure that federal investments are consistent with national priorities. Consequently, the ATA supports a recommendation by the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission calling for the development of performance standards that ensure projects are completed in a timely manner, address national congestion and safety goals, and address the maintenance needs of highways and bridges on critical corridors.

The federal fuel tax still remains the most cost-effective way to fund essential infrastructure projects. While there has been much debate about tolling and public-private partnerships, neither can match the efficiency and equitability of fuel taxes. The collection of fuel taxes costs only a few cents on the dollar, while tolling can cost as much as one-third of the revenue collected. The fuel tax also ensures that all drivers contribute equitably for the miles that they log on our nation’s roads. Of course, the fuel tax is only effective if the revenue is targeted solely for infrastructure, not diverted to other purposes, as some of the revenue has been in the past. America needs an immediate investment in highway infrastructure, and a federal fuel tax efficiently provides the necessary funding.

While infrastructure improvements will ease congestion and reduce carbon output, we must also improve our operational efficiencies. There is a growing recognition that reform of federal truck size and weight standards is one of the keys to improving our energy efficiency and reducing our environmental footprint.

The ATA supports allowing states to authorize more productive vehicles to operate on the nation’s highways, consistent with sound engineering standards, improved safety and cost responsibility. Operating these vehicles would allow companies to deliver goods while making fewer trips, resulting in less traffic congestion, safer highways, cleaner air and less costly freight transportation.

A strong transportation system is the backbone of our great nation. The safe, efficient movement of goods fuels our economy and makes us the envy of others around the globe.

The trucking industry is deeply committed to improving the safety of all of those who share our roads. Statistics show that trucking is the safest that it has been since the Department of Transportation began keeping those numbers in 1975. The trucking industry has experienced a 58 percent reduction in fatal accidents over the past 33 years. The ATA’s 18-point safety agenda will further this trend by addressing three key areas: creating safer vehicles, making motor carrier companies safer and improving driver performance.

Our industry also seeks to reduce its carbon footprint and overall environmental impact through a bold sustainability program that will reduce fuel consumption by 86 billion gallons and carbon emissions by 900 million tons over 10 years.

Dedicating our efforts to improving highway infrastructure and instituting policies that make America more productive will provide the far-reaching economic and environmental benefits that our nation needs to guide us through these tough economic times.

Bill Graves, a former governor of Kansas, is president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations.