By Kevin Burch
Bipartisan bickering continues to imperil the prospects of a long-term highway bill. Instead of providing certainty to members of the trucking industry, Washington is at it again with its favorite game of punting on passage of a long-term highway bill. Our industry is at a crossroads, and Washington needs to realize that trucking is the lifeblood of the American economy. Rain or shine, sleet or snow, our drivers, mechanics and member companies safely move the goods and products that you need each day, from the fresh fruit and vegetables in the grocery store to critical medical supplies to those affected by natural disasters. If you bought it, chances are a truck delivered it.
Trucking remains an integral part of our economy. In 2014 alone, trucking carried over 65 percent of our nation’s domestic freight and pumped over $700 billion into America’s economy. More than 7 million people have careers in the trucking industry.
We’re proud of the hard work we do to move our nation forward, and Americans should not have to settle for a transportation system that is second best. Countries around the world strive to provide certainty to businesses and their economies by modernizing and investing in transportation networks. America can and should make these same commitments and improvements to ensure efficiency, secure our future and maintain our global competitiveness.
Unfortunately, Congress has given America’s transportation system patch after patch, with more than 30 extensions and five revenue shortfalls in transportation funding in the past decade. Well-maintained roads and bridges are important to highway safety. America’s highways and roads need a serious, long-term plan to fix bridges and improve roads instead of failed short-term fixes to the potholes.
The cost of inaction has been steep, with costs topping $200 billion from delayed or canceled road construction projects, productivity costs and automobile repairs.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, congested roads total an estimated $100 billion per year in wasted time and fuel. With roads in such a poor state, motorists take an additional financial hit by losing 5.5 billion hours sitting in congestion and spend an average of $324 per year in vehicle repair and operating costs. If we continue on this path, costs will climb for products, the industry and for consumers as productivity is reduced.
Yet the professional trucking industry, representing more than 3 million professional drivers, continues to step up to the plate, making significant modernizations, implementing high fuel-efficiency standards and adopting critical safety improvements. Increased training also emphasizes fuel-saving driving techniques and promotes more freight hauling and packaging practices.
In the past 40 years the truck-involved fatality rate has decreased 74 percent since 1975 and in the last decade alone, it has dropped 17 percent, even with the industry operating an additional 2.7 million trucks and driving an additional 54 billion miles. More trucks, billions more miles, fewer crashes. We are proud of our long-term safety strides and know that this progress has improved our roads for professional drivers and everyday motorists
Congress has an opportunity to show the trucking industry and general public that our nation’s leaders take seriously the duty to repair our aging infrastructure. Too many of America’s major roads have deteriorated into poor or mediocre condition. Let’s show the world that we can come together to make America’s highways and thoroughfares better and safer for the nearly 300 million American motorists who rely on our transportation system. Pass a fully funded, long-term highway funding bill that can move all Americans forward.
Burch is co-chairman of Trucking Moves America Forward.