The Interstate 10 shutdown in Baton Rouge dramatically highlighted the shortcomings of our highway system. Most people are beginning to realize this is more than an inconvenience. Our inadequately funded road system is costing us in wasted fuel, lost productivity, inefficient movement of goods, lost sales and lost time.
While everyone is focused on what happened Aug. 22 on I-10, the real story is how our overburdened and underfunded infrastructure costs us money every day. Traffic congestion costs the average driver 34 hours a year in wasted time, and the national, annual cost in wasted fuel is $101 billion.
A recent survey by Texas A&M University showed that two segments of I-10 in Baton Rouge, including the part of I-10 that was closed Aug. 22, are among the 35 most-congested corridors in the country. Also, the I-10/I-110 interchange at the Mississippi River Bridge is one of the most-dangerous bottlenecks on the Interstate system. This puts us in the “big leagues” of congested cities, right there with New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.
While it is natural to thrash about for a quick answer, we must accept that there are no shortcuts to building and maintaining an adequately planned and properly funded system. It takes long-range planning, political will, community commitment and sufficient resources to produce meaningful improvements.
The good news is that Louisiana is making some progress. The state has invested past revenue surpluses and federal stimulus funds in improvements to I-10 and I-12 in the Baton Rouge area. The state is also updating its comprehensive statewide transportation plan. On the local level, the Baton Rouge Green Light program is making overdue upgrades to key roadways.
The bad news is we are playing catch-up, and the backlog of needs is still over $12 billion for just the state highway system. Also, our state and federal gas taxes do not provide the needed funds. We must develop new and/or enhanced sources of funding.
Investing in transportation is one of the best economic development strategies. It creates long-term and short-term jobs, makes a region more attractive to taxpaying industries and promotes safety. Every $1 billion spent on highway construction creates 28,000 jobs, half of which are in nonconstruction industries. Every $100 million spent on highway safety improvements will reduce fatalities by 145 over a 10-year period.
The Louisiana Good Roads and Transportation Association is a nonprofit group that supports a well-planned and adequately funded transportation system. Our hope is that the Aug. 22 traffic nightmare will spur serious discussion of how we can improve our highway system, not just in dealing with a crisis, but in making real and lasting change that benefits our quality of life and our economy.
Ken Perret, president
La. Good Roads and Transportation Association