America’s roadways spread out beneath us — supporting commerce, commutes, and personal journeys every day. Our transportation infrastructure is a critically important part of our economy and lifestyle. And smooth, durable pavements provide us with the mobility to get where we need to go — safely and efficiently.
But when roads are built but not maintained, safety and efficiency are lost and the public suffers. Roads in poor condition slow the movement of goods, increase wear and tear on vehicles, and add to driver frustration. In fact, a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) study found that pavement smoothness is a key factor in ensuring satisfaction for drivers.
The federal Highway Trust Fund is the primary source of funding for transportation infrastructure construction and maintenance. With the fund expected to experience day-to-day cash shortfalls beginning this month, Americans can expect delays in construction and maintenance projects that will ultimately impact our economy, commutes, and lifestyle. Beyond that, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), which authorizes the actions of federal transportation agencies, expires in September. We need Congressional leadership and action.
Without action, our roadways will continue to stagnate. With nearly 212 million licensed drivers in the country and more than 35 million tons of goods being transported daily, our roadways must be capable of reliably and safely accommodating heavy usage. But to build roadways that last over the years, we must make smart choices and invest in infrastructure. Anything less will lead to a severe decline in our nation’s economic competitiveness and our individual quality of life.
The truth is, according to recent surveys of more than 4,000 drivers across the country — conducted by Edelman Berland on behalf of the Asphalt Pavement Alliance (APA) — drivers support increased funding for well-maintained roads. In fact, an astounding 86 percent of drivers said the best way to keep the nation’s roadways safe and reliable is to focus spending on maintaining and improving existing roadways — rather than build new ones. Furthermore, drivers are sympathetic to the budget pressures transportation officials face. Drivers understand that current funding cannot adequately fund transportation projects, and they support additional funding mechanisms if there is a guarantee the money will go to maintaining and improving roads and highways.
Investing in maintenance improves smoothness and ensures greater drivability, but it also allows for the implementation of technological innovations that result in safe, high-performing roadways with minimal traffic and construction delays.
Congress recognized the importance of investing in roadway maintenance when they included pavement performance metrics in MAP-21. And now, with the state of our aging roads and limited budgets, it’s clearer than ever that transportation funding cannot keep pace with needed repairs. Much of our country’s infrastructure was built more than a half century ago, and it has been more than two decades since highway funding streams were last adjusted. Now is the time we modernize our road network — and its funding — for the 21st Century.
Kvach is executive director of the Asphalt Pavement Alliance, a partnership of the Asphalt Institute, National Asphalt Pavement Association, and State Asphalt Pavement Associations.