New research published by the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that the wear and tear on our highway system has greater costs than were previously understood, implying a need for more transportation infrastructure investment, especially for road maintenance.
“The rougher the roads are, there are substantial costs in terms of higher vehicle operating costs, longer travel times and less traffic safety,” said Margaret Bock, professor of economics at Goucher College and co-author of the research paper.
In their paper, Where the Rubber Meets the Road: Pavement Damage Reduces Traffic Safety and Speed, Bock and her co-authors find that even modest road damage slows average vehicle speeds by 11%, leading to longer commutes and slower movement of goods. Poorly maintained roads also increase the likelihood of crashes, reducing safety for all.
The researchers studied California’s highway system because it is one of the largest and most geographically diverse in the nation. The state contains almost 400,000 road miles across a variety of climates, the second most expansive system in the nation (behind only Texas.)
“Our estimates are a lot larger than previous estimates. We really need to be investing in fixing the roads,” notes Bock.
David King, a professor of urban planning at Arizona State University, agrees with the conclusion that the country should have a fix-it-first mentality when it comes to highway spending.
As we await progress on federal support via the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, the California Transportation Commission (CTC) continues to meaningfully fund critical repair projects across the state — heavily supported by funding from Senate Bill (SB) 1, The Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017, which provides $5 billion in transportation funding annually.
The CTC recently allocated an additional $1.4 billion for transportation infrastructure projects, including efforts to improve freight movement. SB 1 accounts for more than half of this investment by providing $884 million.
“California continues to make significant investments in fixing our roads, highways, bridges and transit systems,” said California Department of Transportation Director Toks Omishakin. “SB 1 is critical to making these repairs and upgrades, while also supporting thousands of jobs that are essential for our economy.”
- In San Bernardino County: $11.8 million was allocated to lower the profile of state Route 60 near Chino, about 35 miles east of Los Angeles. The goal of the project is to remove vertical clearance constraints in order to improve freight movement along the route.
- In Los Angeles County: $8 million will support the addition of a fourth railroad track at the East Basin of the Port of Long Beach, which handles 78.5 million metric tons of cargo annually. This site lies directly west of Interstate 710, a major truck route. Caltrans said this project would reduce local truck drayage by 54,800 vehicle hours traveled.
- In Ventura County: $6.2 million was set aside for a project that will upgrade Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Facilities in Thousand Oaks and Camarillo, northwest of Los Angeles. These repairs will improve conditions and efficiencies at facilities where the California Highway Patrol inspects the weight of trucks.