Traffic congestion costs the U.S. trucking industry nearly $50 billion annually, and without a massive investment in roads, highways and other infrastructure, it is expected to get worse.
The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the U.S. needs to pour $1.7 trillion into the country’s surface transportation by 2020.
Truckers lost 728 million hours in delivery time to traffic jams in 2014, according to a study of the national highway system by the American Transport Research Institute. That’s equivalent to 264,500 commercial truck drivers doing nothing for an entire work year.
“This is a huge issue,” said Joe Rajkovacz, governmental affairs director of the Western States Trucking Association. “Delays cost money and ultimately increase the cost of transported goods.”
The cost of delays due to traffic congestion amounted to about $26,625 per truck that traveled 150,000 miles annually, ATRI reported.
The problem is so widespread that truckers in more than a dozen states lost $1 billion in time from traffic congestion, the research institute said. In both Florida and Texas, the tally reached $4 billion.
“The U.S. continues to lag in infrastructure improvements, and instead of being able to invest back into their businesses, shippers and carriers end up with unnecessary extra costs to simply move goods within the country,” said Cathy Morrow Roberson, chief analyst at Logistics Trends & Insights. “There are so many projects that need to be addressed – ports, dams, inland waterways, roads – and never enough money to go around.”
Increased trade, a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, is contributing to congestion problems along the U.S. borders with Canada and Mexico, Roberson said.
E-commerce is also playing a role as next-day, same-day and two-day delivery of goods grows, she said.
To meet that demand, companies are locating warehouses and freight distribution centers closer to already congested metropolitan areas.
Amazon, for example, now has over 100 fulfillment centers throughout the U.S. The locations of these facilities bring the Internet-based retailer within 20 miles of 31 percent of the U.S. population and within 20 miles of more than half of its same-day delivery market, according to investment banker Piper Jaffray.
Other companies are following suit. As a result, local deliveries are increasing, which in turn adds additional burden to an already stressed road system.
That means trucks are taking shorter trips, but many more of them, said Dan Murray, vice president of ATRI.
At the end of the day, the consumer is going to pay more because transportation costs are going up.
How, and who, should pay for roadway improvement that would reduce traffic is mired in politics, truckers and analysts told Trucks.com.
This is made worse by the method for funding most road construction, primarily fuel taxes. The fuel economy of both cars and commercial vehicles continues to rise, dampening tax collections from fuel sales. Drivers travel more miles, increasing the wear on roads, but they don’t contribute any more to funding highway and street maintenance.
“Perhaps infrastructure problems should not be strictly a political concern but a business and government concern,” Roberson said. “Maybe it’s time for businesses to have their say and offer solutions and funding for projects that directly impact them.”
Truckers are willing to step up, said Rajkovacz, whose Western States Trucking Association has 6,000 members.
Much of the trucking industry supports increases in fuel taxes if the money will support building and repairing roads and highways, Rajkovacz said.
He knows such a position is a tough sell.
“Raising taxes goes against the political will,” Rajkovacz said.
Most states tax fuel with a fixed per-gallon rate, a method that adds to the problem because it fails to keep up with inflation even as the cost of road building and repair rises, Rajkovacz and others said.
“The cost of construction materials and asphalt keeps going up, but the federal tax is still 18 cents a gallon and that doesn’t go as far as it once did,” he said.
Multiple states are looking at road usage fees as a way to make up lost highway maintenance funds, according to a recent report form Maureen Klein, an analyst at the Energy Information Administration.
Oregon launched a voluntary OreGo program last year in which drivers install a mileage tracking device and pay a per-mile fee of 1.5 cents. The participants then get credits for fuel-based taxes they pay at the pump.
California, which leads all states in motor fuel consumption, plans to begin a nine-month pilot program to study taxes based on road usage in summer 2016, Klein said.
State governments would jump on projects if they had the money, Murray said. They know where the worst traffic jams occur.
“If we got them the resources very quickly, they would have the construction equipment on the road in a matter of days and weeks,” Murray said. “But they don’t have the resources to do that, so we’re back to raise the fuel tax and target those investments that have the biggest bang for the buck.”
Editor’s note: This article was prepared by Trucks.com but appeared first on Forbes.com as part of a content distribution agreement.