When considering our road and bridge problems across the state, most people will quickly name the road they drive on each day that needs to be repaved or the large pothole on their local street that just seems to keep overcoming the patchwork solution tried by local the local city or county government because that’s the only option it can afford to apply.
However, two other issues we often forget about, depending on which part of the state we live in, are traffic congestion and safety. Both are serious problems in our state that take money out of the pockets of Alabamians, and in some cases, take lives.
Increasing the safety of our roadways is one of the cornerstone reasons the BCA and the Alliance for Alabama’s Infrastructure support increased funding for transportation. If I have to pay a little more each month to have better, safer roads that could save, at the very least, one life in the future, then sign me up!
The data shows that improving safety features on Alabama’s roads likely would result in a decrease in the state’s traffic fatalities and serious crashes. Currently, Alabama’s roadways are ranked among the most dangerous in the country. In 2016, 1,038 traffic fatalities occurred on Alabama’s roadways, which ranked 2nd in the nation on a per capita basis.
This is unacceptable. Don’t we all want to know that when our children or loved ones walk out the door each morning that our roads are as safe as possible?
Traffic crashes often have negative economic affects as well. Traffic accidents nearly always cause traffic delays, which cost drives both time and money. According to a 2017 report released by TRIP, a nonprofit organization that researches economic and technical data on surface transportation issues, traffic crashes in which roadway design was likely a contributing factor cost Alabama residents a total of $1.5 billion each year in direct financial costs. The total economic impact of traffic crashes on Alabama roads in 2015 was estimated to be around $17.4 billion.
Even though Alabama does not have near the number of people that Georgia, Tennessee, or Florida does, we still have our fair share of traffic congested areas.
Over the past 25 years, Alabama’s population has grown by 20 percent, rising from 4 million residents to 4.8 million. Vehicle travel in the state has increased by 54 percent during that same time period placing serious strain on our road network’s ability to allow traffic to flow efficiently.
With the rise in population and increasing vehicle travel, road congestion has become a serious issue in many areas of Alabama. As of 2015, 21 percent of the interstates and freeways were congested. In total, 3 percent of all roadways were congested in 2015 and are predicted to increase to 17 percent by 2035.
One of the main reasons Alabama has a larger percentage of congested roads as one might think is because of the wise use of scarce funding by the Alabama Department of Transportation. By shifting a majority of its resources to resurfacing, maintenance and safety, ALDOT is able to maintain and preserve the system we currently have, to a certain degree. The problem is there is no money left over to address capacity projects that would relieve congestion in certain areas of the state.
The rising traffic congestion in the state is robbing Alabama drivers of time and money. The average driver in the Birmingham area loses 34 hours annually to congestion, while drivers in the Huntsville area lose 23 hours each year. At a statewide level, congestion costs Alabama drivers a total of $1.2 billion each year in the form of lost time and wasted fuel.
And that’s just the costs to those drivers who are actually stuck in congestion. Let’s not forget that the trucking industry relies heavily on the ability to move goods efficiently and on time. Traffic congestion adds $63 billion to our nation’s freight costs every year. This is an expense that drives up the costs of shipping goods, which in turn drives up the costs of the goods consumers purchase locally.
If Alabama is going to continue to attract new industry and enhance current industry in our state, then congestion issues will need to be addressed. With just-in-time manufacturing becoming more prevalent these days, companies must be able to rely on our road and bridge system to allow the free flow of goods.
The time has come for us to solve this problem.