Impact of our crumbling infrastructure

By Joseph Evangelist

Executive Vice President, Transervice
As originally appeared in FleetOwner Magazine’s IdeaXchange

Infrastructure is back in the news again. At the recent American Trucking Associations’ Management Conference & Exhibition, a session titled “The Cost of Doing Nothing, Why We Need Infrastructure Investment Now,” allowed panelists to share their thoughts on the subject. Infrastructure funding and improvement is also being talked about as a possible area for Democrats and Republicans to find common ground following the recent mid-term elections.

Whether steps will be taken to improve the infrastructure remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: the continuing deterioration of the country’s infrastructure will have a significant impact in businesses and on the trucking industry.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest concerns:

  • Vehicle and maintenance: Excessive road vibration already causes a significant number of vehicle failures especially with wiring, suspension and similar components. These failures will only increase as road conditions worsen. There will be an increase in tire wear and blowouts resulting in more road calls as well as premature tire replacement. Increased maintenance expense, in addition to accelerated wear and tear on the equipment, will result in shortened asset life. Congestion will result in more idling as trucks just sit in traffic. Idling has a negative affect on emissions systems and on the engine itself.
  • Routing: Traffic and congestion will increase because road conditions may prevent vehicles from achieving allowable speed limits. This could impact hours of service and cause delivery delays and detention. In some cases, if conditions get bad enough, specific roads and bridges could be derated for commercial traffic leading to inaccessible delivery points. As a result of those two points, overall mileage and drive time will continue to increase as fleets have to find alternate routes in order to get goods to their customers.
  • Technology: Much of the current levels of autonomy as well as many vehicle safety systems, including lane departure warning, rely on physical road markings. Failure to improve physical markers will make this generation of technology practically useless.

Even if we start addressing the infrastructure issues today, we will have problems for years to come because it will take many years to complete major infrastructure improvement projects. This is all the more reason why we need to fund projects and begin work immediately.

The trust fund that was set up to take care of our roads and bridges via fuel tax was created in 1956 and there has not been a fuel tax increase since 1993. Whether the fuel tax is raised or some other funding mechanism is found, the reality is this problem needs immediate attention.

The good news is that all is not doom and gloom. In my next blog, I will look at some practical solutions and some more farfetched that can help mitigate the problem.

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