You often a lot of strong opinions from Steve Williams. He’s is the owner of a mid-sized trucking company based in Little Rock, Arkansas, and also a driving force behind the documentary, “Be Prepared to Stop.” He has been an advocate for the trucking industry for more than 25 years, serving in leadership positions for state and national organizations. Along with other trucking and safety leaders, Williams is constantly pointing to the mother of all highway statistics – the horrifying annual death toll. In 2017 that number was 37,133 — the equivalent of a Boeing 737 aircraft falling out of the sky every other day. 2018 may be deadlier.
The multi-decade construction of the interstate highway system, beginning in 1956, was one of the greatest public works projects the world had ever seen. After decades of minimal maintenance and limited upgrades, many of the 46,876 miles of roadway are overwhelmed. Congestion creates choke points across the country that slow the flow of goods and services. Poor infrastructure, such as short on-ramps and narrow bridges built to handle a fraction of the traffic they now support, contribute to a third of those highway deaths every year.
The money pit
While everyone agrees something needs to be done, no one can agree on how to pay for it. Taxes are a word that never leaves the mouths of politicians, and other sources of revenue are often sidelined when discussing infrastructure improvements.
The main source of federal funding, the national gas tax, has not been raised since 1993. That means we’re trying to maintain and upgrade 60-year-old roads for the 21st century using a budget that’s 25 years old. It’s no wonder 27 states and the District of Columbia have been forced to raise state fuel taxes in the past six years just to keep their overcrowded, pothole-filled roads functioning.
The American Society of Civil Engineers warns that our collapsing bridges and roads will only get worse. Four in 10 US bridges are over 50 years old. On average there were 188 million trips across structurally deficient bridges in 2017.
Look around you. You’re surrounded by things that traveled on trucks across interstate highways — hundreds of miles away from the ones you use on a daily basis. Think that a road on the other side of the country isn’t your problem? Think again.
Americans built the Transcontinental Railroad, the Hoover Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Sears Tower and the interstate highway system. It’s who we are. And it’s time we stopped letting them fall into disrepair.