There was good news for truckers last year in the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal (Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act).
The federal government has started $27 billion flowing to individual states to update, replace, and repair more than 15,000 deficient bridges. An additional $110 billion is being allocated to invest in existing roads and highways, all tied in with existing road construction and repair projects.
The expectation for this historic investment in the nation’s roads and bridges is safer, faster travels in and between cities and states. Hundreds of billions more are targeted for airports, rail systems, and ports. All these investments will impact the commercial trucking industry in a variety of ways.
Improved safety is, of course, the greatest reward for focusing on increasingly dangerous bridges and deteriorating high-speed roadways. Ultimately, the better roads and bridges should decrease wear-and-tear and maintenance costs while decreasing travel times on many routes.
Short-Term Hassle for Long-Term Benefits
As with all such good news, there are some short-term challenges that will come with the progress. It is estimated that work on many of the projects will begin this year and will see ongoing disruptions in normal traffic flows for up to five years. That means drivers can expect delays throughout the country as lanes are closed and detours created.
Thus, while there is a cause for celebration over the long-term improvements in safety and roadway efficiency, these also create important short-term concerns for truckers. Trucking companies are now working individually and with industry groups to address the issue of increased traffic, delays, and scheduling challenges.
They understand these are all factors that affect driver productivity, compensation, and career satisfaction. Long term promises are not, in themselves, enough to make up for the anticipated difficulties in the coming months. That makes a proactive stance an industry priority, especially considering current commercial driver shortages. A more aggressive use of technology and new apps will certainly be part of the solution.
At the national and local levels, the record is not very good when such programs are undertaken. From multi-billion investment in new highways in Hawaii to the Big Dig in Boston, the past few decades are a showcase of cost overruns, delays, and engineering miscues. Nothing could be worse for the trucking industry than to have multiple major routes bogged down in poorly planned projects that extend the pain out for a decade or more.
Many industry insiders are expressing concerns on several fronts. First, the very grandeur of this effort will involve all 50 states and virtually every major and secondary commercial route. That means compounded delays that leave little opportunity for efficient rerouting or detours. Another concern is the current lack of skilled labor and adequate supplies for these projects.
Fortunately, new routing technologies may alleviate some of the concern, and trucking industry officials are working to help states coordinate construction and closures.
A New Level of Interconnectivity
For all the concerns, these investments have created a vision for a new and exciting role for trucking. The entire nation is now more aware of the concept of a supply chain in the post-Covid world. This includes a new appreciation for the fact that more than 72 percent of the nation’s freight by weight is moved by commercial truckers.
Truckers fully appreciate the little things in such connectivity, from adequate parking space to easier access to ports and airport cargo areas. These are all factors that should contributed to increased efficiency, higher productivity, and increased compensation for the trucking industry.
Polly Trottenberg, the Deputy Transportation Secretary, points out that, “The many billions of dollars will target freight connectivity efforts to improve the supply chain and overall improvements in the trucking workforce environment.”