Truck Tech

Trump Talks Infrastructure – But Will He Go Far Enough?

Blog Commentary by Jack Roberts, Senior Editor

January 8, 2018

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Dedicated lanes for electric trucks, with overhead electric cables to supply power, will likely be a common fixture in a modern 21st Century highway network. Photo: Scania
Dedicated lanes for electric trucks, with overhead electric cables to supply power, will likely be a common fixture in a modern 21st Century highway network. Photo: Scania

Fresh off his tax plan victory, President Trump is now talking boldly about putting a badly-needed infrastructure deal together this year, and calling on bipartisan participation to get it done. But I am not holding my breath.

The United States’ infrastructure has decayed to an alarming degree over the past 20 years or so. And if there’s one issue that Democrats could get behind President Trump on, this would likely be it. But the Trump administration has already spent wildly on a $700 billion defense funding bill. And the aforementioned tax plan, according to experts, will likely add a staggering $1.5 trillion to the deficit over the coming decade. So it’s hard to see where the money to pay for infrastructure improvements will come from.

But even if that money somehow materializes, “improving” American infrastructure simply isn’t going to cut it. As nice as it would be to see Americans going to work to return our transportation network to 1950 standards, the hard cold truth is we need to be investing now in highways that will meet the transportation demands we’ll be facing in 2050. And, unfortunately, I just don’t hear any politician – on either side of the aisle – talking about anything even remotely forward-looking enough.

I'm not alone. On January 3, a broad coalition of national stakeholders who depend on a modern highway system to conduct business sent a letter to the president and congressional leaders under the auspices of the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials, urging passage of a comprehensive infrastructure plan that increases federal spending while encouraging participation by both states and private industry. Their goal, according to a AASHTO press release, is to secure funding to "transform U.S. infrastructure systems beyond the status quo," which the group notes is "necessary to maintain U.S. economic competitiveness."

Beyond being in shameful disrepair, our country’s highway and road network has been utterly overwhelmed by urban sprawl, population increases and the corresponding explosion of vehicles those trends have created. To put it bluntly, our national transportation network is outdated, woefully inefficient, and will soon be overwhelmed by congestion and unsafe roads if we don’t act now to put a 21st-century highway network in place. And there are a lot of good reasons to do so.

First off, Americans need well-paying jobs. While our economy is currently doing very well for wealthy people, many blue-collar and middle-class Americans could use a boost in terms of jobs and economic growth. And there aren’t many robots ready to go to work building roads, bridges, tunnels and overpasses.

Second, consider that a massive, and forward-thinking infrastructure plan would require massive amounts of medium- and heavy-duty trucks. Not to mention yellow iron and pretty much every kind of support equipment you can think of. Without question, a modern infrastructure plan would be good for OEMs, suppliers, dealerships and aftermarket parts producers.

And, finally: We don’t have a choice. HDT’s website is filled with stories almost daily outlining efforts by Asian and European countries working to develop smart, connected highways and infrastructure, as well as dedicated lanes for platooning and electric trucks. Simply put, a modern, connected infrastructure is going to be a vital strategic asset in the looming global economy. Moving freight in bulk, and consumer items in last-mile delivery, will be mandatory for companies wanting to keep up with overseas competition. And, it’s worth noting, more efficient roads mean more business and bottom line savings for fleets, as well as removing one reason for driver dissatisfaction and turnover.

To be clear, I’ll be happy with any infrastructure bill this country can get – and the sooner the better. But I worry that our current crop of political “leaders” will focus on simply repairing the outdated infrastructure we already have, when it seems obvious that much, much more is needed in order to meet the economic requirements and new technology coming at us in a rush. To date, the American Trucking Associations have done a good job of pushing for an infrastructure bill – but more lobbying is needed. The entire trucking industry needs to speak out as one voice to educate both politicians and the public on the dire need for a 21st century infrastructure. Doing so is not just good for trucking: It’s good for every American and vital for our country’s future.

 

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Author Bio

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Jack Roberts

Senior Editor

As a licensed commercial driver, HDT senior editor Jack Roberts often reports on ground-breaking technical developments and trends in an industry being transformed by technology. With more than two decades covering trucking, in Truck Tech he offers his insights on everything from the latest equipment, systems and components, to telematics and autonomous vehicle technologies.

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