One out of every five miles of road in the U.S. is in poor condition and less than half are rated as “good,” and their condition is just getting worse. Transportation agencies in some states have committed to turning things around by prioritizing maintenance in their spending plans.
Polling data collected in November and released in March show voters want better transportation options across geographic and party lines. The results indicate that a majority of voters wish they had alternatives to driving, support improving public transit, and want government to fix existing roads before building new ones. While COVID-19 has upended daily life, the results help paint a picture of the transportation system Americans want to see.
Research and design are based on a test case human who stands in for the broader population. The default human that is the basis for research and design projects is usually a white adult male. As a result, projects often come to conclusions that do not address the needs of women, and some that are outright dangerous. Transportation projects and priorities are not immune to this bias.
With budgets that tend to favor new construction, many DOTs are finding it necessary to prioritize the most urgent repairs. But infrastructure decay is not always easily visible. And deferred or inadequate maintenance may occasionally have catastrophic consequences for U.S. bridges, 40 percent of which are at least 50 years old, and 9.1 percent of which are considered structurally deficient. A new remote sensing methodology may make the job of decay detection easier, and possibly more accurate.
Transportation for America and Taxpayers for Common Sense has released Repair Priorities 2019, a new report analyzing pavement conditions, state spending trends, and unmet repair needs nationwide. The report indicates that pavement conditions are getting worse, contributing to a growing gap nationally between current investments in repair and unmet needs. At the same time, some states continue to invest in expanding roads, further increasing that backlog. The authors also hosted a webinar to roll out the report. Speakers included staff from DOTs that are prioritizing repair with available funding despite the challenges. Those challenges often include significant political pressure to direct funds toward new capacity projects instead of repair projects that cause backups and inconvenience to drivers.
The ability of smartphones to collect reams of data is significantly expanding crowdsourcing opportunities. An accelerometer is used by smartphones to change screen orientation or count footfalls, among other uses. But it is also capable of recording very small movements 100 times per second. A new app developed by researchers associated with the MIT Concrete Sustainability Hub is harnessing this flood of data to measure road roughness in a way that could have far-reaching effects.
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, have developed a new way to monitor the underground sensors that help states determine when seasonal load restrictions should begin and end.
New Jersey’s newly appointed Department of Transportation Commissioner announced the agency will pursue a ‘fix-it-first’ mindset toward transportation spending. “The days of system expansion in New Jersey are long over, we don’t have the funds,” he said. “The focus is on the new status quo, paving, repairing deficient bridges, fixing potholes.”
Alta Planning + Design is now using a modified bicycle, termed the “Frankenbike,” to assess bike trail conditions. While vans equipped with specialized measurement devices are used extensively by transportation agencies to assess roadway pavement conditions, the condition of bike trails has not generally received the same level of attention.
The booming oil and natural gas industry is bringing jobs and economic development to states across the U.S. But along with the money and jobs come lots and lots of trucks. Many millions of additional dollars in road funding are often required to keep roads near oil and gas fields in good condition. However, road maintenance isn’t the only factor related to the energy boom that is increasing the cost of road infrastructure. High housing costs near booming oil and gas fields drive up costs for roadwork in those areas, while less competition between highway contractors in neighboring states is increasing costs there.