Keeping Public Roads Safe and in Good Condition

The True Costs Behind Poor Conditioned Roads

poor road

Each year, The United States Department of Transportation releases an annual report (updated quarterly) on National Transportation Statistics. This 500+ page document has more than 260 data tables. The report provides data on:

  • The extent, condition, use, and performance of the physical transportation network.
  • The details of transportation’s safety record (Accidents, fatalities, injuries by mode).
  • Relationship between transportation and the economy.
    • Transportation’s contribution to GDP. (in 2012 it was 10%; A $1.5 trillion industry)
    • Employment by industry and occupation
  • Transportation energy use and transportation-related environmental impacts.

Here is the link to the full report:

One clearly noticeable trend seen through these statistics is that America’s transportation system is being used at a rate that is rapidly increasing.  Consider the following statistics found in this DOT NTS report.

In 2012 there was a total of 4.1 million miles of public roads and streets
In 1960 there was a total of 3.55 million miles, So around 500,000 miles added in the past 50 years

In 2011 there was a total of 253 million registered vehicles in the U.S.
In 1960 there was a total of 74.4 million vehicles

This translates into:

In 2011 there was a total of 62 cars to every 1 mile of road in the United States
In 1960 there was a total of 21 cars to every 1 mile
3x as many Cars per Mile of road  

This means that:

Millions of miles of roads have not only withstood wear and tear from vehicle travel for over 50 years,

But also that these roads are experiencing wear and tear at over 3x times the rate they did 50 years ago.

Thus public roads need the proper maintenance to keep up with this increasing usage.  So one must ask the question…

“Are our roads receiving the proper maintenance?”

To find the answer we can refer to TRIP

TRIP is a private, non-profit, “national transportation research group.”

TRIP conducts research and analyzes surface transportation issues.

Of the 10 or so reports found on their website, the following link provides a very comprehensive look at the poor condition many of the nation’s roads are in.

Highlighted points:

  • Over 25 percent of the nation’s roads are classified as being in “Poor Condition”
  • The average motorist is losing $377 annually in additional vehicle operating costs as a result of driving on roads in need of repair
    • In Los Angeles, the additional annual operating cost is $832!
    • In Los Angeles, 64 percent of roads are classified as being in “Poor Condition
  • The current Federal Transportation Program is set to expire Sept. 30, 2014
    • Through all levels of government, the nation spends $36.5 billion a yearon public roads
    • DOT estimates annual investment needed to maintain roads $44 billion a year
    • DOT estimates the amount needed to modestly improve roads $55 billion a year

These numbers suggest that the nation is short $7.5 billion a year just to properly maintain roads, which answers the original question, are our roads receiving the proper maintenance.

It also explains why there is such a high percentage of “Poor Roads,” there isn’t adequate funding.

To make matters worse, this shortage is seen at the current level of funding, which as of now, will be halted on a federal level with a cash shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund.

So what can we do about this?

The TRIP study, along with the Federal Highway Administration, suggests the following:

  • Adopting a “Pavement Preservation Approach” that emphasizes making early initial repairs to pavement surfaces
  • The use of thicker pavements / more durable designs such as high performance concrete pavement

The reasons being:

  • Initial pavement preservation can only be done on road surfaces that are structurally sound. Roads with significant deterioration require costly, short-term repairs until reconstruction is pursued.
  • The overreliance on short-term repairs, with the focus on current pavement surface conditions will eventually create a backlog of pavement and rehabilitation needs
  • A Preventative maintenance approach to keeping pavement in good condition has been found to reduce overall pavement life cycle costs by approximately one-third over a 25-year period.

By adequately repairing our roads, traffic and congestion will decrease and rideability will increase.  According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, every $1 spent to keep a road in good condition avoids $6-14 needed later to rebuild the same road once it has deteriorated significantly.  Thus, the benefits outweigh the cost.  Yet, the outcome ultimately depends on government budgeting.


Penhall Company’s Pavement Services Division specializes in providing concrete pavement preservation for transportation agencies and commercial clients. We have rejuvenated thousands of miles of concrete, transforming distressed roads into like-new highways. With the utmost adherence to safety standards and structural integrity, we allow our clients to preserve pavement while conserving costs.