Jammed up and jelly tight

When we surveyed Overdrive readers for this month’s cover story on congestion, we knew we’d hit a hot button. In two days we received hundreds of responses, including 200 from readers
who took the time to write in comments about the backed-up roadways that give them the worst cases of highway heartburn:

“I dread three specific roads during daylight weekday hours: I-35 between San Antonio and Dallas, I-40 between Little Rock and Memphis, and of course I-80/94 between Chicago and Gary, Ind.,” wrote Eric Goranson, Nacogdoches, Texas. “Add construction to those roads and they become unbearable.”

“If by some unlucky choice you get stuck running I-95 or I-75, you may as well figure on losing three to four hours more than three or four years ago,” says Joel Garrett, Lake City, Fla.

“New York. Enough said,” wrote Shlomo Nashali, Lakewood, N.J.

Congestion’s price tag, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, is a whopping $168 billion per year in lost productivity, wasted fuel and vehicle wear and tear. Its financial impact on trucking alone is around $8 billion annually.

While congestion adds hours to the average consumer’s workday and robs him of free time, it hits owner-operators directly on the bottom line. Orin Koeckeritz of Afton, Minn., speaks for many truckers when he tells of a 90-minute run taking him five hours, “getting paid for the miles only and being late on top of it.”

And the prognosis is not good. Without significant improvements in highway capacity or efficiency, population and economic growth will push our already overburdened roadways beyond their limits: Freight tonnage hauled by truck is projected to grow by more than one-third in the next 10 years. And by 2020, more than 40 percent of urban highways will be congested during peak periods.

If there’s a bright spot on the horizon, it’s that the federal government finally appears to be taking the problem seriously. In 2005 Congress created a 12-person commission tasked with studying the future needs of the nation’s surface transportation system. But as Commissioner Frank Busalacchi, Wisconsin transportation secretary, said at the close of the commission’s June 26 meeting: “The finish line here is not going to be pretty. It’s going to be ugly. This is not going to be an easy lift for Congress.”

Let’s hope our elected officials are up to the task. The future of trucking depends on it.

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