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US urban roads deteriorating, group finds

According to a new analysis of road-condition data gathered by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), one out of every four major urban roads in the United States has unacceptable ride quality and needs resurfacing or reconstruction.

The Road Information Program (TRIP), a Washington DC-based non-profit research group, said its review of recently released data from the FHWA 2001 survey of major state and local roads raises major concerns for both motorists and commercial truckers.

While overall travel on urban roads increased by 30% between 1991 and 2001, travel by large commercial trucks jumped 46% over the same time period.

Vehicle travel is projected to rise 42% by 2020, while travel by heavy trucks is expected to climb by 49%, said TRIP.

But road conditions are worsening even as miles traveled increase. TRIP found that nationally 25% of major urban roads are in “unacceptable” condition, 43% have “acceptable” ride quality, and 32% are in “good” shape. TRIP noted that the FHWA annual study includes a review of interstate highways, freeways, and other main routes.

TRIP also said road-repair funding isn’t keeping up. A 2002 US Department of Transportation (DOT) study prepared for Congress found that urban road and highway pavement conditions likely will get worse at current funding levels. The DOT study concluded that improving the physical condition and performance of urban roadways would require a 49% increase in annual funding, from $13.6 billion to $20.2 billion per year.

The problem, said TRIP, is that driving on roads in poor conditions raises vehicle maintenance costs. TRIP calculated that, on average, motorists in the nation’s major urban regions are paying $396 annually per driver in extra vehicle operating costs to drive on roads in need of repair.

“Without additional federal investment, our nation’s roads are going to get worse and motorists are going to pay a higher ‘hidden tax’ in the form of additional vehicle operating costs,” said William M Wilkins, TRIP’s executive director.

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