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Tolling Points

U.S. Interstate System Needs Repair and Refurbishment, even in a Pandemic

By: 
Bill Cramer

Even with a global pandemic in full swing, the big, grinding challenges that were with us before the coronavirus hit aren’t going to solve themselves. So it’s important to remember that America’s aging Interstate Highway System is still in dire need of repair and refurbishment.

That’s the main takeaway from a new report this month by the national transportation research non-profit, TRIP. It reminds us that the highway infrastructure funding and maintenance backlog is still with us, and getting worse each day, while our attention is focused on masks and social distancing to keep us safe, we also need to be focused on keeping our highways safe, that are key to our economy.

In fact, “the importance of the Interstate Highway System and the reliable movement of goods it provides has been heightened during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” TRIP writes. “But America’s Interstate Highways are wearing out and showing signs of their advanced age, often heavily congested, and in need of significant reconstruction, modernization and expansion.”

With updated information on pavement conditions, bridge conditions, travel trends, congestion, truck use and traffic safety along the Interstate network, the report lays out an urgent series of actions to restore the system—by rebuilding roadway segments from the subbase up, and reconstructing the majority of roads and bridges from their foundations. It confirms the U.S. Transportation Research Board’s 2019 call to increase investment in the system by about 250 percent, from $23 billion in 2018 to $57 billion per year over the next two decades.

Demand Growing Faster Than Supply

The report points out that traffic volumes along the Interstates have been growing far faster than the system’s capacity to meet demand.

“Since 2000, travel on the Interstate system has increased at a rate of nearly triple the rate at which new lanes are being added,” Transportation Today reports. “As a result, nearly 50 percent of urban Interstate highways are considered congested during peak travel times. Truck travel on the Interstate has increased 45 percent from 2000 to 2018, nearly double the 25 percent rate of travel growth for all vehicle travel during the same period.”

And yet, “the aging system continues to deteriorate,” and “highways, bridges, and interchanges will need to be rebuilt or replaced,” the industry newsletter adds. “According to the TRIP report, pavement on 11 percent of the Interstate highways are in poor or mediocre condition, and 27 percent of Interstate bridges are in need of repair or replacement.”

Less Money in a Pandemic

With funding for repairs, maintenance, and reconstruction already far too scarce, TRIP says the Interstate system now faces a serious revenue crunch due to the pandemic, with states facing a $50-billion shortfall over the next 18 months. Solving that problem will require sustained political commitment—and that commitment begins with a clear understanding of why it matters.

“The long-term vision that helped establish the current Interstate system nearly 65 years ago is needed again today,” TRIP Executive Director Dave Kearby told Transportation Today. “In order to rebuild the nation’s economy, maintain personal and commercial mobility, and improve quality of life, adequate transportation investment and a sustainable, long-term funding source for the federal surface transportation program must remain a priority.”

And TRIP is receiving some high-powered support for its analysis.

“The report released by TRIP confirms what American businesses experience every day—our Interstate highway system, which was once the envy of the world, is in serious need of modernization,” said Ed Mortimer, vice president of transportation infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Commitment to modernization must be shared by federal, state and local leaders as well as the private sector. “

For more than a decade, IBTTA has been advocating for an increase in the federal gas tax, alternative funding options such as VMT, along with the proven financing method that tolling provides to state and local communities. Highways simply must be paid for with taxes and/or tolls. There are no free roads! The nation must address the reconstruction of our 60 plus year old Interstate Highway System.

Click here for your copy of IBTTA’s Grassroots Toll Kit.

Newsletter publish date: 
Wednesday, July 22, 2020 - 13:30

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