America’s truck drivers have a unique workplace. Certainly, most drivers consider the cab of their vehicle as their “work office.” However, their actual workspace, the environment where they spend 95 percent of their time, is on America’s 4.1 million miles of roads and highways. Truck drivers put in at least 140 billion miles a year, an average of more than 45,000 per driver. That is billions of hours for the industry and thousands of hours for the driver in this work environment. They also cross the 615,000 bridges in the country on a 24/7 basis.
These facts mean that the condition of America’s road system is a major factor in the life and performance of drivers. It impacts them on several fronts. First, efficient and well-maintained roads allow them to maintain efficient schedules and eliminate many safety issues. Secondly, dealing with unsafe and poor road systems is a costly and dangerous component that is a concern to the entire industry. Additionally, the issue of ongoing repairs and upgrades to the roads and highways is a constant concern that causes delays and unsafe conditions.
Understanding the Problem
In addition to commercial trucks, American drivers traveled more than 3.2 trillion miles over the American road system in 2018. We can only assume this level of usage will continue to grow. That makes good roads an issue for everyone, not just the trucking industry. Unfortunately, that issue has not been addressed effectively for several decades.
The American Society of Civil Engineers addresses the state of the transportation infrastructure every four years in its Infrastructure Report Card. In its recent 2021 analysis, the society issued a marginal grade of only C-. While this is a step up from the 2017 grade of D+, it points to a critical need for improvement. To emphasize the urgent nature, the report notes that at least 43 percent of the roads in the country are considered in poor condition.
The effect of such failings is significant. Aside from real safety issues, these conditions cause more than 7 billion hours of traffic delays every year. This equals a cost of $616 per average driver and a much greater amount for the professional truck driver.
Most of the U.S. Interstate system is now more than five decades old. They have also experienced many times the usage that was originally projected. These facts and the cumulative deferred maintenance have created a situation where there is a backlog of more than $800 billion in federal road projects alone. This does not include a number that is at least half that for the state road systems.
Keeping the Roads Open
Fortunately, there is a new focus on this issue. Congress saw the introduction of America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act of 2019 as one step in the process. The bill proposed spending $287 billion over five years to maintain and repair existing roads and bridges. It also addressed the decision-making process to move more projects out of the political struggles to help get projects moving more efficiently. What was actually passed was a temporary patch in 2020 with the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.
Politics are always a big part of the infrastructure debate. However, there seems to be a growing consensus that will ensure the new administration takes action on many highway, road, and bridge initiatives.
A recent article in Asphalt Contractor struck an optimistic tone with the title 2021 State of Road Building: Our Nation is Ready to Make Infrastructure a Priority. This article notes that there will be increasing investment in roads and highways starting in 2021.
While this will create short-term hassles for many drivers dealing with the construction, it should bring long-term improvements to the truck driver’s workspace.