America’s infrastructure, which ranges from bridges to potholes, has an average rating of a “D+.” Since 2013, politicians and Former Speaker John Boehner touched on the need to “preventing infrastructure failures,” reports Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”
The problems with America’s infrastructure are not specific to any one state. Dams and bridges are deteriorating faster than ever, and in fact, the overwhelming majority of the so-called marvels of engineering–dams, bridges and roads–are 52-years-old on average. Moreover, the state of roads cost drivers more than $101 billion annually from wasted fuel and time costs, reports William H. Behrer of Real Truth magazine, impacting everyday drivers and the logistics industry.
While the parodies are quite “terrifying,” the problem remains, but one piece of legislation, passed in December 2015, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), offers a solution, and actionable steps are being laid out to define a way to dramatically reshape the infrastructure-landscape in several key ways.
How Has the FAST Act Impacted the U.S. Highway Trust Fund?
The U.S. Highway Trust Fund had gone bankrupt. Rather than pouring funding into the Highway Trust Fund blindly, the FAST Act is operating similar to education funding sources. Funds are being distributed as needed, but all funds are clearly defined for use in repairing the existing problems. There is some wiggle-room in how the funds are used, but any such room is detailed in 30 fact sheets to help local and state governments understand how to access and use the funds appropriately. As a result, a timeline of milestones in the implementation of the FAST Act has emerged.
Milestones of Implementation in the FAST Act.
- In January 2016, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued a notice of apportionment of Federal-Aid Highway Program Funds, encouraging states to begin working to rebuild America’s infrastructure. Highways with the greatest deterioration fell into specific provisions to ensure funding was available in record-breaking time.
- By February, FHWA issued guidance on the National Highway Freight Program. This program provides a formula to ensure freight carriers are able to reap significant benefits from the FAST Act, such as increased fuel efficiency and reduced congestion, leading to better overall shipping rates and return on investment throughout the economy. In other words, better roads result in more money for use in the economy.
- Additional guidelines defined truck size and weight requirements that all projects receiving funding from the FAST Act must meet. These guidelines were designed to ensure FAST Act funding is not distributed to projects that would solely benefit non-commercial drivers. While this seems counterproductive, the basic takeaway is that the funding is not for neighborhood roads; it is for larger issues with more problems, such as bridges, highways and feeder roads. Obviously, some funding will be dispersed to smaller projects, but the majority goes to the larger bits of America’s infrastructure that pose catastrophic problems for national transportation, a critical element for successful freight transportation processes.
- In March, FHWA issued guidance for “four of six large-scale core highway formula programs.” Additionally, the organization began accepting applications to grant programs for use of funds. The goal is simple: applications must exhibit a specific means of improving safety or demonstrate other ways to fund surface transportation and sustain the funds within the Highway Trust Fund. In other words, projects must not go beyond what is reasonable to improve safety and rebuild the affected portions of America’s infrastructure, which will help reduce the strain on the fund.
- April saw similar milestones, such as the creation of additional fact sheets and guidance of what apportionments are available under the respective grants. Since existing innovations are useless without a means of innovation and view toward future problems, FHWA issued transparency guidelines to ensure funds are not wasted and distributed according to the requirements in the initial application approval. Essentially, the goal is to cut “fat” from local and state projects that would have misused funds as “pork,” not improvements to the problems in today’s infrastructure.
What’s Next for America’s Infrastructure?
Applications for grant programs will be due in May and June, pushing for approval by the end of 2016, and projects will begin shortly. When the FAST Act was originally introduced, the fight over how quickly something could be done seemed imminent. Yet, the strides in apportioning and releasing the funds are tantamount to the creation of a government in less than four months, representing the urgency of the situation.
If we consider the time it takes to build and repair the “smallest” portions of highways (less than 10-mile tracts), logistics providers could see real improvements in the speed of transit by the end of 2018, if not sooner.
Improved regulatory requirements for truck size and weight will open new corridors and route options, and better road quality will reduce fuel costs among an increasingly fuel-consumptive sector of the economy. While transportation management systems work to improve the efficiency and productivity of logistics operations, carriers not reasonably work on roads themselves. Fortunately, the FAST Act is providing funding for the much-needed improvements on America’s roads and bridges, laying the foundation for a more successful, cost-effective and efficient transit system.
Guidelines will continue to be issued, but progress has arrived, and logistics providers can finally take advantage of the true scope of the latest technologies in transportation management and its resulting benefits in reducing freight costs and improving customer service.