Tough acting, long lasting

Jan. 16, 2004

As the American Concrete Pavement Association marks its 40th anniversary this year, we also are commemorating the 50th year of the interstate highway system. The 46,677-mile interstate network carries about 24% of all vehicular travel, while accounting for only 2.5% of all roadway lanes in the U.S.  

As the American Concrete Pavement Association marks its 40th anniversary this year, we also are commemorating the 50th year of the interstate highway system. The 46,677-mile interstate network carries about 24% of all vehicular travel, while accounting for only 2.5% of all roadway lanes in the U.S.  

Forty years ago, industry and public agencies were making great strides in constructing the interstate highway system, which greatly enhanced commerce and personal mobility. At the same time, the industry and airport authorities were building and expanding airport pavements to accommodate new generations of jet aircraft, which revolutionized air travel and set the stage for international business and commerce.

The world is a decidedly different place today than it was 40 years ago, but one thing remains constant--we still need safe, efficient and cost-effective highways, runways and roadways. Along the way, many people have questioned the need for continued investment in the nation’s surface transportation system, particularly when the nation’s attention was drawn to other issues, including war, recent economic challenges and other issues that have captured headlines and public sentiment. 

Ironically, we faced many of the same challenges in the 1960s. But just as then we are staying the course with conviction and fierce determination to advocate for the funds and other resources necessary to build and maintain a quality system of roads, airports and highways. We simply cannot lose sight of the importance of improving the nation’s surface transportation infrastructure. 

Although some of the challenges may be the same, the conditions associated with them are getting worse. The system is getting older, congestion is worse and demands are increasing. This is evident to anyone who’s ever experienced significant delays on the interstate in rush hour or even the “off-peak” hours in some areas of the country. If we do not take a firm stand on increased funding, the problem will only get worse.  

An estimated 13,000 people die on American highways every year because of roadway conditions. From our perspective, what possible justification can there be for the death of these many thousands of American men, women and children on U.S. roadways every year? 

The fact we all pay a user fee with every gallon of motor fuel purchased in this country adds even more incredulity to this grim statistic. Although we realize the 13,000 casualties are incremental, it makes no sense to argue that the loss of life when taken as a whole is any less compelling. How many flowers and crosses must we see on the roadside before we take some decisive actions? 

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for people between 4 and 33 years of age. Isn’t it time we take serious steps to making our highways and roadways safer for the American public? We propose a “zero tolerance” policy toward these fatalities, and believe that a significant reduction is possible during the term of the next highway bill, as well in successive highway bills. 

In addition to improving the safety of our surface transportation network, there are also compelling economic arguments that support increasing investment in our surface transportation infrastructure. Who would argue that highways and airports have not brought untold economic value to this nation? According to a U.S. Department of Transportation study, every billion federal dollars invested in highway construction nationwide creates or sustains 47,500 jobs.

Increased highway investments also directly increase quality. Highway lanes in poor or mediocre condition have decreased from 1996 to 2001. Structurally deficient or functionally obsolete bridges also have dropped during the same period. The reason? Interstate repair and improvements grew by 37% during the same time.

Another important and necessary component in the investment in our nation’s surface transportation infrastructure is research and technology programs that bring useful ideas to fruition. All key stakeholder groups, including federal agencies, state departments of transportation, academia and industry, should receive equal representation in terms of creating the agenda, developing the strategies and producing and implementing key results. Each of the aforementioned stakeholder groups brings valuable skills and unique perspectives that our nation’s surface transportation system needs . . . and needs now. 

This is a time for bold determination and leadership. As we are now looking at programs that will affect our highways and airports through most or all of the remaining years of this decade, it is important to foster new ideas, to encourage a true partnership among all key stakeholders and to advocate and defend funding without hesitation or reservation. Our surface transportation infrastructure depends on it. 

About The Author: Riva is president and CEO of ACPA, Skokie, Ill.

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