Saturday, September 25, 2010

Paying the poor road tax

Imagine throwing $681 dollars of your money into a hole every year and getting nothing in return. Goodbye hard-earned cash.

Sad to say it but if you drive a vehicle on the crappy streets of New Orleans, that's exactly what you do each year.

A new study estimates that more than half our streets are in "poor" condition--the lowest rating on the scale. Only 13% of roads are rated "good" at the opposite end of the spectrum.

And those pot-holed, dilapidated streets not only make your drives longer and bumpier, they do real damage to your vehicle. Think about it. Rough roads result in more frequent maintenance and repairs, rob your engine of fuel efficiency and even decrease the life of tires.

This damage costs money, and researchers put a price on it. This estimate includes depreciation of your vehicle value, increased fuel costs and the costs of more frequent maintenance. The average annual cost for driving in New Orleans is $681, a figure that is a whopping 70% higher than the US average.

In very real terms, we pay a poor road tax every time we drive on poor streets and highways.

None of us are surprised that streets in the New Orleans area are ranked among the worst in America. If anyone was surprised, it was that we were ranked only 6th in the list of major cities.

The national transportation research group TRIP released its rankings in a report titled, "America's Roughest Rides."

This is a nationwide crisis that everyone predicted. You don't have to be an economist or an engineer to know that roads and highways require continuous maintenance and repairs.

And you probably also know that every year there are more people in more vehicles travelling the roads. Federal Highway Administration data indicate that since 1990, overall vehicle travel has increased 39 percent. So funding of road work has to keep up with the required maintenance of roads that are being used more and more each year.

That has not happened.

A report from the US Department of Transportation estimates the annual investment required just to maintain the status quo condition of streets and highways is $26.6 billion. The actual annual spending on streets and highways by all levels of government: $14 billion.

That's an annual gap of more than $12 billion. No wonder streets seem to be getting worse!

The fix to fix our streets is obvious: dedicate more funding to road work. Government at all levels can pitch in by funding work on streets in the poorest condition. The nice thing about highway projects is that they also create jobs--jobs that can't be exported or out-sourced across the border.

The Federal Highway Administration also estimates that the economic impact of each dollar spent on road, highway and bridge improvements results in $5.20 of benefits in the reduction of vehicle maintenance costs, reduced travel time, reduced fuel consumption, improved safety and even in reduced air pollution.

The full report is here.


Clay said...

2 Big Notes:

* AASHTO makes gross vehicle weights (per axle). Their current spec is 100,000 lbs. for an 18-wheeler. That was sort of "snuck in" by the trucking companies after the civil engineers (mostly state highway officials) decided that 80,000 lbs is more appropriate. Road damage has been empirically proven to be proportional to weight by about 10^3 or 10^4 power (double the weight of the vehicle, you do MUCH more than double the road damage). Dropping the weight limit on trucks would ease maintenance on roadways significantly. Unfortunately, I hear that the next AASHTO meeting looks like they'll up it to 120,000 because each bump is a little more than a 10% fuel savings (after balancing out all factors).

* In Louisiana, the road base material isn't so great, so we'll always be at a significant disadvantage.

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