The Road Information Program (TRIP), the Washington, DC-based transportation research and advocacy group, has released "Making the Grade in Alabama," a report analyzing "the current condition, use and funding of Alabama’s highway transportation system."
Subtitled "The Ability of Alabama’s Transportation System to Meet the State’s Need for Safe and Efficient Mobility," the report looks at roads and bridges, traffic congestion highway safety, and unmet funding needs in the state of Alabama. Specific reports are given for Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile and Montgomery and include letter grades in each category.
The report’s findings were presented Tuesday at a Birmingham press conference by Carolyn Bonifas, TRIP’s associate director for research and communication.
Information used to prepare the study comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, the U.S. Census Bureau, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Texas Transportation Institute, and the Alabama Department of Transportation.
"The deficiencies cited in this report are not a reflection of the effectiveness of state and local transportation agencies," the report notes, "but of a lack of adequate funding."
Here’s a summary of the report’s key findings. The complete state report, as well as details of the four metro areas studied, can be found at www.tripnet.org.
Key Findings: Roadways Need Work
One focus of the report was Alabama’s roadways, and the study concluded that, statewide, 13 percent of Alabama’s major roads and highways have pavements in either poor (5 percent) or mediocre (8 percent) condition.
Notable findings cited in the report include the following:
- The roads earning "poor" ratings often exhibit "significant rutting potholes or other visible signs of deterioration and need resurfacing or reconstruction.
- Roads rated "mediocre" show signs of significant wear and may also exhibit visible pavement distress.
- Most of the "mediocre" pavements can be effectively resurfaced, but others may need more extensive reconstruction.
- The poor road conditions cost Alabama motorist $601 million ($165 per driver) each year from accelerated depreciation, additional repair costs, and increased fuel consumption
Bridges: One-Quarter Deemed "Structurally Deficient or Functionally Obsolete"
Bridges fared even worse, percentage-wise, with about a quarter of the state’s bridges (state, local, and municipal bridges 20 feet or longer) tagged as "structurally deficient or functionally obsolete."
Among the key bridge-related findings:
- Just over 11 percent of the state’s bridges earn "structurally deficient" ratings, showing "significant deterioration to decks and other major components."
- Some 13.5 percent of the state’s bridges are functionally obsolete and no longer meet modern design standards for safety or no longer have the capacity to handle traffic volumes.
- Bridge weight restrictions impact emergency vehicles, commercial vehicles, school busses, and farm equipment, forcing the use of alternate routes that lengthen trip time, use more fuel, and adversely impact local economies.
The study also revealed – not surprisingly – that population growth and increases in vehicle travel have led to increased congestion in the state’s urban areas.
- A 15 percent population increase statewide from 1990 to 2007 contributed to increased congestion, with an additional 15 percent population increase expected by 2025.
- A 45 percent increase in vehicle travel (from 42.3 billion vehicle miles to 61 billion vehicle miles) occurred over the same time period, with an additional 45 percent increase expected by 2025.
- Some 52 percent of the state’s urban Interstates, other highways, or freeways are already considered congested.
- From 1990 to 2007, lane miles on Interstates, freeways, and expressways increased by 6 percent, but vehicle travel on those roads increased by 70 percent over the same period.
- From 1990 to 2007, vehicle travel on key urban roads increased at a rate 12 times greater than the rate of adding new highway lane capacity.
The study also looked at safety on Alabama’s roads and highways. Key safety related findings included the following:
- From 2002 to 2006 an average of 1,106 persons were killed each year on Alabama roads – a rate 42 percent higher than the national average.
- A variety of improvements (including removing/shielding obstacles, adding/improving medians, adding rumble strips, widening lanes, widening/paving shoulders, and improving markings and signals) can reduce fatalities and accidents while also improving traffic flow and relieving congestion.
The study noted that Alabama is facing a significant transportation funding shortfall, with the result that needed projects are not moving forward.
- The state faces a funding shortfall of about $6.9 billion from 2008 to 2017.
- ALDOT estimates a need of about $16.2 billion to significantly improve roads and bridges during that same period.
- However, ALDOT estimates that funding from 2008 to 2017 will be only $9.3 billion.
- Investment in the state’s highways will not only enhance safety but also relieve congestion and create "significant employment" in the state.
Metro Region Report Cards
In addition to the statewide overview, TRIP evaluated conditions in four major metro areas in the state (Birmingham, Huntsville, Mobile and Montgomery) and assigned letter grades to each. Each metro area was graded in five categories (roads, bridges, congestion, safety and funding). Here’s a summary of the results.
- In Birmingham, roads, bridges, and congestion each received a grade of C-minus, while safety and funding both earned an F.
- Substandard road conditions cost the average Birmingham motorist $280 in additional costs each year.
- Five percent of the region’s 548 bridges are rated structurally deficient, and 18 percent are rated functionally obsolete.
- By 2030, the average rush hour trip in Birmingham may take 30 percent longer to complete – putting the area in the company of present day Philadelphia and Boston.
- Birmingham’s traffic fatality rate is 12.8 per 100,000 population.
- Birmingham also earned an F in the area of funding. Key projects such as improvements to I-59, I-65 I-459 and the Birmingham North Beltline will not move ahead without additional funding.
- Huntsville fared slightly better than Birmingham, earning two C-plusses (in bridges and congestion), one C (in roads), but also receiving Fs in the areas of safety and funding.
- 17 percent of Huntsville’s major roads were rated poor, and an additional seven percent were rated mediocre, in 2006 (the latest year for which data is available).
- One percent of the region’s 169 bridges are rated structurally deficient, but 21 percent are rated functionally obsolete.
- Traffic delays due to congestion are expected to double in the area by 2030.
- The Huntsville area’s traffic fatality rate is 18 per 100,000 population.
- Projects such as the new corridor from Memphis to Atlanta will not move ahead without funding.
The Mobile area received one C-plus (congestion), one C (roads), one C-minus (bridges), and Fs in safety and funding.
- In 2006, some 12 percent of Mobile’s major roads were rated poor, with an additional 11 percent rated mediocre.
- Of the region’s 235 bridges, 6 percent are rated structurally deficient, with 20 percent rated functionally obsolete.
- Congestion-related traffic delays are expected to double by 2030.
- The Mobile area’s traffic fatality rate in 2006 was 22.2 fatalities per 100,000 population.
- Needed projects such as improvements to I-10 and I-65 will not move ahead without additional funding.
Montgomery received a C-plus in congestion, a C in bridges, but three Fs (in roads, safety and funding.
- In the 2006 rating, 18 percent of Montgomery’s major metro roads were rated poor, with an additional 27 percent rated mediocre.
- Of the region’s 263 bridges, 4 percent are rated structurally deficient and 22 percent are rated functionally obsolete.
- In Montgomery, as in other areas, traffic delays due to congestion are expected to double by 2030.
- Montgomery’s traffic fatality rate in 2006 was 18.4 per 100,000 population.
- More funding is needed if projects such as improvements to I-65, I-85 and US 82 are to move ahead.
Reaction: Funding Is Needed – Now!
The reaction of Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Russell Cunningham was typical of many as he noted that the report underscores current transportation needs.
"We are encouraged by the TRIP report which affirms the current needs and will be material to the ongoing discussion," noted Russell Cunningham, CEO and president of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce, adding, "Understanding that Congress will appropriate funds for a significant investment in infrastructure as part of the upcoming economic stimulus program, we hope to receive adequate funding for our ‘ready to go’ projects."
He added, "We encourage Congress also to provide sufficient funding for the region’s transit and roads needs in the Federal Transportation Bill slated to be passed in 2009."
Added William M. Wilkins, TRIP’s executive director, "Alabama’s economy is literally riding on its transportation system."