Photo: Neil Abt/Fleet Owner

Traffic keeps getting worse but there's little relief in sight

Oct. 30, 2018
A range of factors, including e-commerce sales, are putting additional strain on the U.S. infrastructure network, but there is little relief on the horizon.

AUSTIN, TX. A range of factors including soaring e-commerce sales are putting additional strain on the aging U.S. infrastructure network, yet there appears to be little relief on the horizon.

“Conditions are getting worse at the worst bottlenecks,” Rebecca Brewster, president of the American Transportation Research Institute, said during a panel discussion at the annual meeting of American Trucking Associations.

Bob Costello, ATA’s chief economist, said e-commerce sales have soared about 2,100% since the start of the century, and the changing habits of shoppers are creating more congestion, especially in major metropolitan areas. 

“If you order something and expect it ... in two days or less you have to hand it on hand,” Costello said. “It has to be close by.” 

Online shopping has played a large role in reducing the average length of haul in the dry van truckload space to below 500 miles for the first time on record.

Brewster pointed out any conversation involving congestion should involve more than just highways - it should also include parking facilities, ports, and other infrastructure. She said the lack of available truck parking costs drivers an average of 56 minutes a day. 

Costello added there were 12 million truck crossings at U.S. borders in 2017. The majority of the crossings were at a handful of entry points at each border, creating additional bottlenecks that also need to be addressed.

All of this congestion is resulting in a $960 penalty on motorists annually, including $600 in higher maintenance and operational costs.

Tonn Ostergard, CEO of Crete Carriers, said the maintenance costs due to poor road conditions are far higher for his fleets.

He touted ATA’s plan to that would set a federal usage fee built into the price of wholesale transportation fuels collected at the terminal rack. However, he acknowledged there remains stronger opposition to any federal tax hike, even though many states have raised their fuel taxes.

“This is not a tax, it is an investment,” he said, adding that a failure to act could threaten the economic growth and security of the United States.

About the Author

Neil Abt

Neil Abt, editorial director at Fleet Owner, is a veteran journalist with over 20 years of reporting experience, including 15 years spent covering the trucking industry. A graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., he began his career covering sports for The Washington Post newspaper, followed by a position in the newsroom of America Online (AOL) and then both reporting and leadership roles at Transport Topics. Abt is based out of Portland, Oregon.

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