As a fan of transportation, I often delve into arcana about railroads and highways, both subjects of keen interest to the logistics industry. For me, it's a hobby, but for shippers, truck drivers, and business owners who depend on goods getting where they're going on time and in good shape, the state of our transportation infrastructure affects their livelihoods.
As trucks deliver the overwhelming bulk of goods shipped in the United States, the condition of the nation's highways matter a lot to truck drivers. Bad roads increase wear and tear on rigs, resulting in higher repair bills and increased costs, which eventually show up in the prices of goods consumers buy. They also slow truckers down, adding to delivery times.
One of the most closely watched indicators of the state of the nation's highways is the annual survey of truck drivers conducted by Overdrive magazine. The Overdrive survey is closely followed and highly regarded because it provides direct feedback about our highways from the people who use them the most: the truckers who cross the country on them for a living.
It is also closely watched in the state where I live, Pennsylvania, because the Keystone State regularly earns a very dubious honor on the survey. Year after year, with very few exceptions, the truckers rank Pennsylvania highways as the nation's worst. In fact, the state has avoided that fate in only six of the 19 surveys conducted so far.
The bottom ranking has roots in history. For a time in the 1970s, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation was flat broke. All of its money went to pay off construction bonds, and then some, and nothing was left over to maintain the state's highways. As a result, concrete Interstates became bumpy, and asphalt roads came to resemble washboards. Only the Pennsylvania Turnpike, which truckers pay dearly to use, was in decent condition.
The state continues to pay for this history in its bottom-dwelling status for overall road conditions, which it reclaimed from Louisiana after a three-year hiatus on the 2010 Overdrive survey. But there was good news for long-distance drivers through Pennsylvania in the survey as well. Interstate 80, the free east-west highway that is the most direct route for trucks headed between New York and the Midwest, was named most improved highway in the survey, and Interstate 81, a heavily traveled route between New England and the South, was the third most improved. And no Pennsylvania highway ranked among the worst individual roads in the nation.
The state of Pennsylvania highways matters to the logistics industry because the state is also a keystone for the delivery business. Traffic between most major East Coast ports and the nation's heartland crosses it, and its highways are the most intensely used by truckers of those in any Eastern state. The improved state of those highways carries with it significant benefits for truck drivers and their customers. But that improved state is precarious. On its 2010 Report Card for Pennsylvania's Infrastructure, the state chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the state's road network a grade of D-, saying that funding was inadequate to even maintain the highways in their current state, let alone improve their safety or add capacity.
The 2010 Overdrive survey was released in February. It's now March 2011. C'mon, Overdrive - roadgeeks, PennDOT officials and truck drivers all over the country await your verdict.
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By Sandy Smith
Sandy Smith is a veteran freelance writer, editor and public relations professional who lives in Philadelphia. Besides blogging for LogisticsJobSite.com, he has written for numerous publications and websites, would be happy to do your resume, and is himself actively seeking career opportunities on Nexxt. Check out his LinkedIn profile and read his other posts on LogisticsJobSiteBlog.com.