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State road maintenance must be priority

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By KEVIN W. BAKEWELL
AAA’s Auto Club Group
Many of the roads and bridges we travel on every day in Tennessee are crumbling because of insufficient maintenance and old age.

Unless policymakers act soon to increase funding, motorists can expect more potholes longer commutes, and dangerous safety problems.

Construction of the federal Interstate Highway System began in the 1950s and many roads have since outlived their effective lifespan.

The American Society of Civil Engineers reports that 32 percent of our country’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition, while nearly 25 percent of bridges are rated as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

In Tennessee alone, there are 93,251 miles of public roads, and 38 percent fail to meet adequate standards.

The accumulation of potholes, bumpy roads and poor driving conditions can cost motorists hundreds of dollars a year in additional repairs and operating costs.

This comes at a time when the average cost to own and operate a car has increased to $9,122 per year, according to AAA’s recently released “Your Driving Costs” report.

Many highways and roads were never designed to handle the average commute motorists face today, resulting in huge traffic jams and stressful trips across town.

Congestion wastes $121 billion in time and energy, according to the Texas Transportation Institute, an organization that studies the national transportation system.

In fact, idling in traffic wastes 2.9 billion gallons of fuel per year, which is equivalent to more than 150 million trips to the gas station for the average car.

Even more concerning is the potential harm caused by poor road conditions.

The annual societal cost of traffic crashes is $299.5 billion, which does not even measure the true human and emotional price arising from more than 30,000 traffic deaths last year.  

Many of these crashes arise, in part, from unsafe conditions such as inadequate lighting, poor signage and outdated road design.

Despite the already troubling statistics, roads and bridges in Tennessee may become worse in the years ahead because the Federal Highway Trust Fund that pays for maintenance and improvements may go bankrupt as soon as 2015.

If this happens, it would result in Tennessee losing out on significant funding needed to fix roads, minimize traffic jams and improve safety.

More than 50 years ago, America’s Interstate Highway System became the envy of the world because our nation’s leaders worked together to implement far-reaching polices of historic importance.

The leaders of the time did not let the political risks detract them from developing a highway network that would stand as a monument to the engineering excellence of the United States.

Today, the American public is tired of waiting for Congress to address these serious problems.

Approximately two-thirds of adult drivers believe the federal government should invest more to improve roadways, according to a recent survey by AAA.

In fact, U.S. motorists seem more willing to implement new funding options than even their elected federal officials.
Now is the time to act.

Help urge your elected officials to prioritize road and bridge funding so that something is done soon to fix the innumerable potholes and traffic jams that motorists in Tennessee face every day.
 

Kevin W. Bakewell is senior vice president and chief public affairs officer for AAA’s Auto Club Group.