Bottlenecks continue to idle trucks

Feb. 3, 2006
Bottlenecks on highways throughout the nation idled trucks for more than 243 million hours in 2004, costing trucking companies $7.8 billion, according to a study prepared for the Federal Highway Administration.

Bottlenecks on highways throughout the nation idled trucks for more than 243 million hours in 2004, costing trucking companies $7.8 billion, according to a study prepared for the Federal Highway Administration.

“Ultimately, it is the consumer who will pay the price when increasing congestion forces the cost of goods on store shelves go up,” said Bill Graves, American Trucking Associations president and chief executive officer. “This should encourage all Americans to insist on highway projects that improve the mobility and reliability of freight. The Congress now has a roadmap to follow when making critical decisions about how to invest scarce transportation resources.”

“Bottlenecks that harm truckers hurt other highway users and the public at-large,” said Greg Cohen, president and chief executive officer of the American Highway Users Alliance. “Unfortunately, all levels of government are failing to focus their resources on the efficient movement of goods. Yet the societal benefits of a national plan to fix the worst freight chokepoints would be astounding: Not only money, time, and hundreds of millions of gallons in diesel fuel would be saved, but roads would be safer, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions would decrease dramatically.”

The study by Cambridge Systematics Inc in association with the Battelle Memorial Institute is an initial effort to identify and quantify highway bottlenecks that delay trucks and increase costs to businesses and consumers. It found the worst bottlenecks in Los Angeles CA, New York NY, Chicago IL, Atlanta GA, Dallas-Fort Worth TX, Denver CO, Columbus OH, and Portland OR.

The study estimates a direct user delay cost of $32.15 per hour based on four major types of truck-related delays along freight corridors, including constraints at interchanges, signalized intersections, hold ups caused by steep grades, and lane reductions. When truck deliveries are delayed by congestion, freight transportation costs increase due to unnecessary fuel consumption, lost driver time and productivity, and disruption of pick-up and delivery schedules, particularly with critical just-in-time freight.

Overall, bottlenecks account for 40 percent of vehicle delays, with the balance caused by construction work zones, crashes, breakdowns, bad weather and poor signal timing.

Nearly 40 percent of the approximately $40 billion in annual revenue collected into the federal Highway Trust Fund comes from fuel taxes paid by trucks, highway use taxes, sales taxes, and tire taxes. Billions more in state diesel and truck registration fees are collected. However, a significant amount of this revenue is diverted to projects that have little or no benefit to the truckers paying the taxes.

Increased congestion is hitting the trucking industry at a time when the economy is relying on trucks to haul more goods. Trucking is projected to haul 13 billion tons of freight by 2016, compared with 9.8 billion tons in 2004. By 2016, ATA projects 3.7 million 18 wheelers will be operating on the nation’s highways, up from 2.7 million in 2004. Yet most state transportation plans do not anticipate breaking with the current trend of limiting highway capacity expansion which has caused the current congestion problems.

The study authors concluded that these bottlenecks are a federal concern because “they are a significant national problem for trucking and the efficient operation of the national freight transportation system.” The report recommends, therefore, that federal resources should focus on improving highway bottlenecks.

For its part, the trucking industry, through a partnership between the FHWA and the American Transportation Research Institute, is developing a “Freight Performance Measures” initiative that will promote future highway efficiency tactics and strategies through a freight-focused lens. The joint effort will use practical travel time averages, reliability indices, and truck position data along freight-significant corridors.

Of note, the report indicates the majority of bottlenecks occur on the nation’s Interstate Highway System. Last week in Washington, DC, an alliance of interstate highways users kicked off a year long commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the system with “The Interstate of the Future” as its theme.