It's time to bring our nation's infrastructure into the 21st century
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This time of year is always one of renewed enthusiasm on Capitol Hill as new college graduates flood House and Senate job boards with resumes and the hopes of impacting important policy debates. For me, each spring represents a renewed opportunity for change, especially to decades old policies that remain ripe for disruption.

But despite this continued influx of new perspectives and enthusiasm, year after year, we have continued to fall short on one of the most pressing policy areas that merits our attention: updating our nation’s outdated infrastructure system because it no longer reflects the needs of our modern 21st century economy.

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Since last updating the efficiency of our highway network more than 25 years ago, our infrastructure has suffered from chronic underinvestment and a lack of innovation. At times this lack of investment has put families in harm’s way, caused economic inefficiency, and put undue stress on the environment. We are at a tipping point and our policymakers must realize infrastructure investment cannot solely focus on filling potholes, painting lines, installing signage, and building additional lane miles.

 

It is impossible to build enough new road capacity to stay ahead of the physical and economic gridlock that will result from the continuing growth in consumer demand, spurred in part by the rise of e-commerce. Today, more than 122.5 million households and 7.5 million domestic businesses rely on the transportation system to obtain goods, and that number is projected to skyrocket in the coming years.

As my grandfather would say, “we're trying to put ten pounds into a five-pound sack” as all modes of our transportation network struggle to keep pace with increasing demands and the challenges of infrastructure designed for past generations.

The recent release of the American Society of Civil Engineers infrastructure analysis painted a bleak picture of our nation’s transportation system, giving a sub-par grade of D+. The impact of failing highway infrastructure is tangible. In 2014, traffic delays were estimated to cost more than $160 billion in wasted time and fuel, and drivers spent more than 6.9 billion hours delayed in traffic.

While Washington is beginning to embrace the need for a modernized transportation system, several organizations have resorted to making inaccurate claims in hopes of scaring policymakers into ignoring tangible benefits. Twin 33s, in particular, have become the center of a heated debate despite their value as a source of untapped efficiency that can be deployed at no government cost while improving highway safety, sustainability, and efficiency.

In fact, Twin 33s perform equal to or better than current trailer combinations in four critical safety measurements: static rollover threshold, rearward amplification, load transfer ratio, and high speed transient off tracking. Importantly, a recent study conducted by 35-year traffic safety researcher, Dr. Ronald Knipling, found a shift to Twin 33s would result in 3.1 billion fewer vehicle miles travelled in 2014.

Fewer miles means less wear and tear on our roads and safer highways for all – resulting in 4,500 fewer annual truck crashes, according to the study, which was commissioned by Americans for Modern Transportation. Adding five extra feet to 28 foot trailers is just a common sense solution to creating adequate truck space for the modern consumer’s purchasing habits.

Ultimately, the public and private sectors must work together to find sensible solutions that create greater trucking efficiency and stimulate long-term economic growth. Smart regulations that boldly take advantage of new technologies in safety, sustainability, and vehicle design are the only way to ensure we are ready to support a growing population, and a growing economy that benefits all Americans.

I encourage policymakers and other stakeholders to think outside the box about the need to modernize our current infrastructure policies. Together, I’m sure we can move America forward.

Randy Mullett is executive director of Americans for Modern Transportation, a coalition dedicated to improving both the safety and efficiency of our transportation system to meet the on-demand needs of the modern business and consumer.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.