Tough acting, long lasting

After 40 years, concrete industry determined as ever

Article January 16, 2004
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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. style="mso-spacerun: yes">  

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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