Way to go

Linda Longton, editor
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Twenty years ago when you heard the term “bumper-to-bumper traffic,” you probably thought of areas such as New York and Los Angeles or maybe navigating the parking lot at a big football game. But since 1982, travel times during peak periods have doubled even in small urban areas, according to the 2007 Urban Mobility Report, released in September by the Texas Transportation Institute.

The study shows motorists waste 4.2 billion hours and 2.8 billion gallons of fuel each year sitting in congestion. That works out to about 38 hours per motorist annually spent in traffic – a $78 billion annual drain on the U.S. economy. No surprise that the worst areas are Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Dallas.

Congestion has a huge impact on trucking productivity, too. More than one-third of respondents to an Overdrive survey said congestion has reduced the miles they drive; more than half said it forces them to take less desirable routes. And it only will get worse: Truck freight is projected to increase 31 percent in 10 years.

In an effort to deal with this problem, Congress in 2005 created the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, which will present its report to Congress by year’s end. “There is not a consensus at this point on how we should move forward,” Pat Quinn, co-chairman of U.S. Xpress and a member of the 12-person commission, told attendees at the Independent Contractor meeting of the Truckload Carriers Association in Chicago in September.

One idea Quinn champions is what he calls the Federal Truck Network, consisting of two truck-only lanes in each direction. This giant loop would cover most of the country’s major freight corridors.

Truck-only lanes stretching coast to coast certainly could help expedite freight movement, not to mention eliminate the headache of sharing the road with four-wheelers. But the hurdles will be high. Such an endeavor would require strong presidential leadership and, literally, an act of Congress. The politics of determining the location and funding of the roads boggle the mind. After all, our world is considerably more complicated than when Eisenhower envisioned the Interstate system.

Given the snail’s pace at which most road projects proceed, it’s difficult to imagine any of us living to see such an ambitious plan completed. But our highway troubles won’t be solved without creative thinking. Quinn’s plan certainly qualifies.