TIFFS: What cost to bring nation’s roads up to state of good repair?

Number eight in the Transport in a Fine Fix Series.

I read somewhere once where roadway damage caused by one tractor semi-trailer rig is equivalent to what 9,600 automobiles would cause. With continued use and over a given amount of time, road surface and subgrade damage is to be expected. And, to help minimize destruction, preventive maintenance and repair must be ongoing. So, it can definitely be seen where regular usage does take a toll.

The American Society of Civil Engineers this year gave the nation’s roadway infrastructure a grade of D. Understandable. Meanwhile, the same organization assigned a letter grade of C+ to the country’s railways. Stopping and thinking about what this means, and thinking that with somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 million motor vehicles plying America’s roadway network, what if some of that rubber-tire-based traffic were to switch to trains? More railway traffic means less roadway traffic. Not as much road traffic and, in the aggregate, that means less associated infrastructure damage. Right?

So, just today, as a matter of fact, The Fresno Bee ran an editorial dealing with this very topic. Regardless of whatever damage is caused, the money to pay for road repair and resurfacing obviously must come from somewhere. But, the question is: Who should foot the bill for such?

First of all, let me preface this by saying that I firmly believe the experts in the field know to the dollar the exact amount required to keep our roads in a good state of repair. It appears I am not alone regarding that assessment.

“[The California Department of Transportation] will spend about $3.3 billion on maintenance and rehabilitation this year,” the Bee editorial board wrote. “The department estimates it should be spending $7.9 billion just to keep up with needs of the current system.”

Further, the Bee editorial board noted, “Citing Federal Highway Administration data, Sacramento Bee political columnist Dan Walters wrote in July: ‘California not only has the nation’s worst traffic congestion but its second roughest roadways.’

“And a coalition of local governments says they need $82 billion more over the next decade to bring local streets and roads up to snuff.”

As it stands, according to information in the editorial in question, an estimated 331.9 billion motor vehicle miles traveled (VMT) will be logged on the state’s roadways this year, topping last year’s 331 billion which, itself, bested the 326.9 billion VMT recorded in 2011. The increase may not seem like much, but given what Dan Walters pointed out above, the additional traffic and miles driven only adds to the problem; it doesn’t help matters.

I surmise that in California there are anywhere between 29 million and 32 million registered motor vehicles – or a little more than 10 percent of the national total. It is obvious the number of miles being driven is on the rise which translates into a given amount of roadway damage being caused over a given amount of time. Considering what is at issue, as a motorist I have to wonder if taxing actual miles driven would not be more equitable and more preferable as it has to do with meeting costs associated with road and highway upkeep.

Diesel-smoke[1]If such a tax would do a better job at getting ruts out of roads, so to speak, then, by all means, I would be all for it.

But what would be even better is if there were less miles being driven. As such, that would mean less pollution pouring out of cars and trucks and that fosters air quality improvement. So, not only is there less roadway damage caused, but fewer emissions released to go with that, all that plus safer roadways for those who drive upon them.

The right plan for the right price at the right time, no?!

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