What are the Two Scariest Numbers for Transportation Stakeholders?

The Scream by Edward Munch. Image - Wikipedia

A Washington Post headline (“The single scariest number for President Obama in the Washington Post-ABC poll“) prompted me to wonder: What’s the scariest number for transportation stakeholders?

I think there are two: 76 and $3.92. I’ll explain the two numbers and then why they should scare us.

“76” is the percentage of respondents in the latest Washington Post/ABC poll who think the country is still in a recession. The breakdown by party affiliation and income differ, but basically a majority in all groups believe we’re still recession.

“$3.92” is the average price of a gallon of gas in the U.S. right now. Although much of the west coast is paying more than $4.00 a gallon; my local gas stations are charing $4.17 a gallon. The good news is that the price may be dropping. And the price appears to heading lower and staying away from 2011’s $3.99 high and July 2008’s record $4.11 (“Gas prices, now averaging $3.92 a gallon, may have peaked,” USA Today).

Why are those two numbers scary? Because they will further inhibit Congress and state legislators from raising transportation taxes and fees to fund the needed preservation and expansion of our transportation network.

Until a majority of the public believes we’re out of the recession, and until gas prices drop, most elected officials will be unwilling to take the admittedly tough votes.

Meanwhile. . . .

  • Under-investment in fixing rough roads costs people more on vehicle maintenance:“Rough roads add an average of $335 to the annual cost of owning a car – in some cities an additional $740 more – due to damaged tires, suspensions and reduced fuel efficiency.  Learn more from the 2009 “Rough Roads” report (53-page PDF).
  • Delaying investment in road maintenance simply increases a project’s eventual cost:
    Every $1 spent in keeping a good road good precludes spending $6-$14 to rebuild one that has deteriorated (Rough Roads report).
  • Postponing congestion relief projects costs people time and money:
    The cost of congestion is more than $100 billion, nearly $750 for every commuter in the United States.” It also increases the costs of goods we buy. Learn more from the 2011 Mobility Study from the Texas Transportation Institute.
  • Our economic competitors (and partners) such as Canada, Brazil, India and China continue to pour money into their infrastructure to sustain and increase their competitiveness in world trade.
    “Canada spends 4 percent of its GDP on transportation investment and maintenance and China spends 9 percent (compared to the U.S.’s 1.7 percent).”  Learn more from the 2011 report “Falling Apart and Behind” from Building America’s Future.