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The Last Word

Nostalgic Investment

By Steve Williams, Chairman & CEO of Maverick USA

Nostalgic? Perhaps. I remember my Dad and grandfather's 160 horsepower KB 6 Internationals roaring across Missouri on US 40. I remember when the Interstate System didn't exist, watched it get built and used up during my lifetime. I remember the time when we dreamed big dreams and then made them a reality. We built things. In 1955, in President Eisenhower's State of the Union address he said, "A modern, efficient highway system is essential to meet the needs of our growing population, our expanding economy and our national security." He was also told that if he went through with this idea that he would not be re-elected. He was, by the way.

All of America's roads, bridges and highways, freight rail facilities and inland waterways are deteriorating. We have fallen well behind other advanced countries when it comes to total transportation investment. In the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Competitive Index, the US ranked 10th for transportation, 18th for roads, and 19th for quality of overall infrastructure. We are well behind countries including Poland, Estonia, Hungary, Spain and Greece.

Transportation infrastructure spending as a share of GDP has been falling, from about 3 percent of GDP in 1962 to only 1.4 percent today...down over 50 percent.

Estimates to meet current needs are that the current tax (24.4¢/gallon) needs to be increased by an additional 40 cents to around 65 cents. The Federal diesel tax has not changed since 1993. Adjusted for inflation, that number would have already been 42¢/gallon. Over the last six years alone, diesel fuel prices have fluctuated from a high of $4.16/gallon to a low of $2.19/gallon. With fuel now on low end of that range, wouldn't now be a great time to start phasing in 8¢/gallon?

Over the next 50 years, the population of the US will grow by some 120 million people with most of that growth being in metropolitan areas. As the world economy grows and becomes more globally integrated during the next half century, the US will experience higher trade volumes and greater pressures on its international gateways and domestic freight networks. Freight volume is expected to be 70 percent higher in 2020 than in 1998.

Travel on the nation's highways is far too dangerous and poised to get worse. In 2013, there were more than 33,000 traffic fatalities and "roadway conditions" are a significant factor in approximately one-third of those traffic fatalities. We can and must do better. Martin Daum, President of Daimler Trucks, recently said, "If we don't get our infrastructure right in this country, the hundreds of millions of dollars already spent on fuel economy and cutting emissions is blown out the tailpipe.” Congestion is costing American families, American businesses and transportation providers hundreds of billions of dollars simply due to our apparent inability to invest in highway infrastructure, money that would be better spent building high-ways and bridges.

The U.S. Congress needs to get the political backbone to do what many at the state level are being forced to do...raise our fuel taxes so we can start building back before it is too late. Is my hope for infrastructure investment in the United States simply nostalgic, idealistic or realistic? Well, there is hope. Winston Churchill was credited with saying, "You can count on Americans to do the right thing...after they have exhausted all other alternatives." Well I believe we are there. It is time to lead or get out of the way.

Note: This fall watch for a documentary whose title is Be Prepared to Stop produced by award-winning producer, Jennifer Clymer. It will highlight the consequences of further inaction.

Williams is a three time Chairman of the Arkansas Trucking Association, Past Chairman of the American Trucking Associations, Past Chairman of the American Transportation Research Institute, and has served on the Executive Committee of the Transportation Research

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Arkansas Trucking Association
PO Box 3476 (72203)
1401 West Capitol Ave.
Little Rock, AR 72201

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