FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 3, 2021
CONTACT: Pete Daniels / firstname.lastname@example.org / 301-442-2249 (C)
Statement of Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), on 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure
Timely assessment exposes serious roadway safety issues which must be addressed
Today, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released its 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, issuing a grade of “D” for U.S. roads and “C” for bridges. Since its last report in 2017, the grade for roads has remained at a dismal “D,” and the grade for bridges holds the disappointing distinction of being the only category in which the grade dropped (from a C+). This is not a “refrigerator-worthy” report card. It is time for our nation’s leaders to “hit the books” and advance proven solutions to upgrade our infrastructure which will also result in improving safety for all road users.
As the report notes, “Unfortunately, 36,096 people died on the nation’s roadways in 2019…” Additionally, 2.7 million people are injured every year in motor vehicle crashes according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). ASCE estimates that roadway design features are likely a contributing factor in approximately one-third of traffic fatalities. Notably, 40 percent of the road system as a whole is now in poor or mediocre condition and the vast majority of those tend to be local roads in urban and rural areas and the non-interstate system.
Additionally, it is estimated that a nationwide backlog of nearly 231,000 bridges in need of repairs would take more than 50 years to complete at the current rate of improvement. According to the report, “42% of the nation’s 617,084 highway bridges are over 50 years old, an increase from 39% in 2016. Notably, 12% of highway bridges are aged 80 years or older. Structurally deficient bridges specifically are nearly 69 years old on average. Most of the country’s bridges were designed for a service life of approximately 50 years, so as time passes, an ever-increasing number of bridges will need major rehabilitation or replacement.”
The positive news is that we have “answer sheets” to improve safety on our nation’s infrastructure.
Enhancing the Safety of Vulnerable Road Users with Infrastructure Upgrades
The report correctly highlights the more than 6,000 pedestrian fatalities in 2019 which constitute more than 17 percent of total fatalities for the year. This marks a more than 50 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities over the last decade. Similarly, pedalcyclist fatalities increased by nearly 50 percent in urban areas over that same time frame, according to NHTSA. Infrastructure upgrades can reduce this needless toll through the addition of speed bumps, corner islands to slow vehicles and bikes at intersections and protect crossing pedestrians, and protected bike lanes, all part of what is known as a Safe Systems approach to roadway infrastructure. According to numerous reports and evaluations, these efforts are effective in reducing crashes and improving safety. They should be extended to all neighborhoods to promote equity of the safety improvements.
Bigger, Heavier Trucks Damage Roadway Infrastructure
Considering approximately 5,000 people are killed and 150,000 are injured in crashes involving large trucks every year combined with the degraded state of our roads and bridges identified in the ASCE report, lawmakers must reject efforts to allow bigger, heavier trucks on our roadways. Increases to the federal truck size and weight limits would exacerbate safety and infrastructure problems, negate potential benefits from investments in roads and bridges, and divert rail traffic from privately owned freight railroads to our already overburdened public highways. Overweight trucks disproportionately damage our badly deteriorated roads and bridges. An 18,000-pound truck axle does over 3,000 times more damage to pavement than a typical passenger vehicle axle. The ASCE report notes that bridges are “being subjected to trucks that are heavier than those they were originally designed to sustain.” This “threatens to overstress bridge elements, cause metal fatigue and cracking, and decrease the service lives of bridges.”
Yet, certain segments of the trucking industry go knocking on the doors of members of Congress asking for special interest exemptions for certain states, road segments or industries. These inequitable allowances have turned our federal truck size and weight limits into “Swiss cheese” and must stop. As Congress considers significant infrastructure investments this year, consenting to any increases, exemptions, or pilot programs would be counterproductive at best and dangerous and deadly at worst.
Time for Congress to Advance Infrastructure and Vehicle Upgrades
Historically, comprehensive infrastructure and surface transportation bills have provided an opportunity to advance vital auto safety improvements. As Congress looks toward reauthorization or considers a larger infrastructure package this year, we urge lawmakers to prioritize reducing the physical, economic, and emotional toll of crashes and advance crucial safety upgrades. Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Moving Forward Act (116th Congress, H.R. 2) with numerous safety provisions, including infrastructure upgrades and technological advances, that should be furthered. Modernizing our aging transportation system and ensuring everyone living in the U.S. can use it safely are compatible and achievable goals.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is an alliance of consumer, medical, public health, law enforcement and safety groups and insurance companies and agents working together to make America’s roads safer. Advocates’ mission is the adoption of federal and state laws, policies and programs that prevent motor vehicle crashes, save lives, reduce injuries, and contain costs.