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Aug. 14, 2003

America's major urban roads are critical links in the nation's transportation system, serving commuters and commerce. As travel nationwide continues to climb, adding to the wear and tear on urban roads, the cost to motorists also climbs.

America's major urban roads are critical links in the nation's transportation system, serving commuters and commerce. As travel nationwide continues to climb, adding to the wear and tear on urban roads, the cost to motorists also climbs.

A new study by The Road Information Program (TRIP), "Keep Both Hands on the Wheel: Cities with the Bumpiest Rides and Strategies to Make our Roads Smoother," found that 25% of the nation's major metropolitan roads provide drivers with an unacceptable ride quality because they are in need of resurfacing or reconstruction. The average urban motorist is paying $396 annually in extra vehicle operating costs because driving on roads in disrepair increases consumer costs by accelerating vehicle deterioration, increasing the frequency of needed maintenance and increasing fuel consumption.

The top 10 urban regions (with one million or more residents) where motorists pay the most annually in extra vehicle operating costs are Los Angeles ($706); San Jose ($705); San Francisco-Oakland ($674); San Diego ($667); Detroit ($621); New Orleans ($617); Baltimore ($612); Sacramento ($609); Boston ($606); and Oklahoma City ($578).

The high level of pavement deterioration on major metropolitan roads is a result of a significant increase in urban traffic, particularly from large trucks. These major arterial roads carry 78% of the more than 1.7 trillion miles driven annually in urban America. And this travel is expected to continue to increase, contributing to the significant wear and tear on urban roads and making it more costly to improve and maintain them.

Overall travel on urban roads increased by 30% between 1991 and 2001. Travel by large trucks increased 46% over the same period. Vehicle travel is expected to increase by approximately 42% by 2020, and the level of heavy-truck travel nationally is projected to increase by approximately 49% by 2020.

Money fixes everything

At a time when travel is increasing, causing significant deterioration on our urban roads, budget problems are forcing many state and local governments to cut highway spending. The funding has to come from somewhere.

Congress has the opportunity this year to significantly increase federal highway funding when it reauthorizes the current six-year federal highway program, which expires Sept. 30. The leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure has proposed that federal funding of roads and bridges during 2004 to 2009 be increased to $300 billion.

The Bush administration's proposal calls for spending approximately $190 billion for roads and bridges from 2004 to 2009. The Congressional budget resolution approved in April 2003 calls for spending $218 billion on roads and bridges from 2004 to 2009.

Additional federal highway funding also will help boost economic growth, as studies have shown that for each $1 billion of federal spending on highway construction nationwide 47,500 jobs are generated annually. These jobs include on-site construction employment, service and professional jobs related to on-going highway projects and jobs in the local economy created and sustained because of the increased economic activity from highway construction.

The funding proposal of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which will have the primary jurisdiction over the reauthorization of federal surface transportation legislation, is the only proposal that has adequate funding to result in an improvement in the conditions of the nation's roads and bridges.

In response to a request by the committee, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently estimated the level of federal funding needed from 2004 to 2009 to maintain the current condition and performance of the nation's roads and bridges is $270 billion.

Federal funding of road and bridge improvements from 2004 to 2009 in excess of $270 billion would allow overall road and bridge conditions to improve and levels of traffic congestion to decrease.

Americans depend on good roads in their communities. But there are problems on our nation's major urban streets and roadways, problems that Congress has the opportunity to address during reauthorization of the federal highway bill.

About The Author: Wilkins is executive director of The Road Information Program, Washington, D.C.

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