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The close relationship between infrastructure and efficiency

Jan. 27, 2021
Our economy depends on the efficient and timely movement of goods. When the infrastructure is subpar, it is not just the trucking industry that suffers.

In 2017, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave the U.S. infrastructure an overall grade of D+. By any measure, not a good grade. I recall getting a few (two to be exact) D+'s in my educational career, and that was certainly not good.

In its most recent report, Failure to Act: Economic Impacts of Status Quo Investment Across Infrastructure Systems, the group says, “Business costs and prices will increase if surface transportation systems worsen, ports and inland waterways become outdated or congested, and if water, wastewater, and electricity infrastructure systems deteriorate or fail to keep up with changing demand.”

How bad is it? ASCE projects a decline in business productivity of about $23 trillion over the next two decades if there is a not a significant infusion of cash to fix roads, bridges, tunnels, ports, power grids and water systems.

Our economy depends on the efficient and timely movement of goods. When the infrastructure is subpar, it is not just the trucking industry that suffers. Ramifications are felt throughout the economy when raw materials can't get to plants or inventory does not make it to warehouse shelves.

And while everyone suffers with bad infrastructure, trucking efficiency takes a body blow when fleets have to send their trucks out on deteriorating roads and bridges.  

Freight efficiency depends on a number of factors. It starts with a truck that is spec’d right for its application and spec’d with fuel economy in mind. Then the truck needs to be used in the application for which is has been spec’d. Trucks need to be loaded for maximum freight ton efficiency and proper routing needs to be determined to eliminate wasted miles. Drivers need to be coached and rewarded for driving while keeping fuel efficiency in mind. Dispatchers need to understand their role in the efficiency equation and on and on.

All of those things are under the fleet’s control. But there are things outside the fleet’s control like weather, traffic and the condition of the roads.  The Highway Trust Fund was established so ensure an ongoing source of funding for construction and maintenance of roads and bridges. Over the years, money from that fund has been diverted to fund other projects, which explains, at least in part, why ASCE’s rating was a D+.

If we are going to continue to push the freight efficiency envelope, we need to make sure all the elements that go into great freight efficiency are rated way north of D+.

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). He currently serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.

About the Author

Michael Roeth | Executive Director

Michael Roeth has worked in the commercial vehicle industry for nearly 30 years, most recently as executive director of the North American Council for Freight Efficiency (NACFE). He serves on the second National Academy of Sciences Committee on Technologies and Approaches for Reducing the Fuel Consumption of Medium and Heavy-Duty Vehicles and has held various positions in engineering, quality, sales, and plant management with Navistar and Behr/Cummins.

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