Hold the Wheel Steady: America’s Roughest Rides and Strategies to Make Our Roads Smoother

Posted by Content Coordinator on Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010


Executive Summary

These days, keeping the wheel steady can be a challenge on America’s urban roads and highways, nearly a quarter of which provide motorists with a rough ride because of potholes and pavement deterioration. These major urban roadways – highways and major streets that are the main routes for commuters and commerce – are a critical link in the nation’s transportation system, carrying 78 percent of the approximately 2 trillion miles driven annually in urban America.

Yet many of these major urban streets and highways are showing significant signs of deterioration. With state and governments facing looming budget deficits and without a long-term federal surface transportation program in place, road conditions could get even worse in the future.

In this report, TRIP examines the condition of major roads in the nation’s most populous urban areas, recent trends in urban travel, the latest developments in repairing roads and building them to last longer, and the funding levels needed to address America’s deteriorated urban roadways. For the purposes of this report, an urbanized area includes the major city in a region and its neighboring or surrounding suburban areas. Pavement condition data are the latest available and are derived from the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) 2008 annual survey of state transportation officials on the condition of major state and locally maintained roads, based on a uniform pavement rating index. The pavement rating index measures the level of smoothness of pavement surfaces, supplying information on the ride quality provided by road and highway surfaces. The major findings of the TRIP report are:

Nearly a quarter of the nation’s major urban roads are rated in substandard or poor condition, providing motorists with a rough ride and increasing the cost of operating a vehicle. While the share of the nation’s major urban roads in poor condition decreased from 2007 to 2008, potential deficits in state budgets, the completion of federal transportation stimulus projects and the failure of Congress to approve a long-term federal surface transportation program, may lead to worsening urban pavement conditions.

Significant increases in travel in the years ahead will put additional stress on roads and make it even more costly to improve and maintain them.

Pavement conditions are likely to worsen under current funding levels. Through 2025, the U.S. faces a $189 billion shortfall in the cost to maintain urban roadways in their current condition and a $375 billion shortfall in the cost to make significant improvements to urban roadways, based on findings of the DOT study.

Projects to improve the condition of the nation’s roads and bridges could boost the nation’s economic recovery by providing significant short- and long-term economic benefits.

Transportation agencies can reduce pavement life cycle costs by adopting a pavement preservation approach that emphasizes making early initial repairs to pavement surfaces while they are still in good condition and the use of higher-quality paving materials, which reduces the cost of keeping roads smooth by delaying the need for costly reconstruction.

Roads in Poor Condition

Download full report: Hold the Wheel Steady

About The Road Information Program (TRIP)
“Founded in 1971, TRIP is a nonprofit organization that promotes transportation policies that relieve traffic congestion, improve road and bridge conditions, improve air quality, make highway travel safer and enhance economic productivity.”

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