Our nation’s surface transportation system – our roads, bridges, and transit systems – faces an investment shortfall of $847 billion by the year 2020. Further, the impact of not addressing the shortfall goes beyond an added pothole or two – it acts as a drag on our nation’s economic growth and personal income. It is estimated that the average American family will lose $1,060 each year in personal disposable income due to deficient and unreliable transportation by the year 2020.
Many communities are taking small steps to address this shortfall, transforming the way they approach these projects and seeing impressive results where investments have been made. Accelerated construction, new pavements, and technology that offers more convenient travel options are just a few promising innovations coming to communities like yours.
Ridesharing and Transit Apps
The sharing economy is coming to cars, and how we get around is rapidly changing. Uber, Lyft, and others are making it easier to think about not owning a car in dense urban areas, and more convenient to have on-demand transportation.
These technologies hold promise for added societal benefits, including reducing congestion and enabling better data by using vehicles as sensors.
The nation has more than 600,000 bridges, with over 66,000 classified as structurally deficient as of 2012, and over 60,000 posted for load restrictions. Five states have over 20 percent of their bridges classified as structurally deficient, a daunting challenge. Rapid bridge replacement programs attempt to bundle similar bridge projects together to capitalize on economies of scale to achieve cost savings and quicker construction periods.
We all know the feeling of frustration when traffic slows to a crawl as you see the telltale signs of traffic cones and reduced lanes up ahead. Large bridge replacement or rehabilitation projects mean that disruptive construction zones can last months into years.
Accelerated bridge construction is a design and construction method that uses prefabricated materials and other strategies to minimize traffic disruptions and reduce onsite construction time. As many components of the bridge as possible are constructed ahead of time so that road closures are required only when moving the elements into place. For projects that do not require custom engineering, movable bridges and accelerated bridge construction can greatly decrease construction disruptions without sacrificing quality. Standardized approaches streamline the activities required to get bridge replacement systems designed and built in less time -sometimes installed in hours or days, rather than weeks or months.
Bus commuters can often suffer the same issue facing drivers – being stuck in traffic. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) combines the performance, speed, and reliability of rail, with the flexibility and substantially lower cost of buses. The most robust BRT systems are characterized by features including a bus-only lane separated by a center median to avoid congestion, elevated boarding stations, pre-payment systems, and specially timed traffic lights. At the least, BRT buses should operate for a significant part of their journey within a fully dedicated right of way to avoid traffic congestion.
Currently, Latin America has 60 cities with BRT systems, and there are 33 cities in Brazil alone with BRT systems. According to the Institute for Transportation and Development, the U.S. has only five systems that meet the minimum standards to be considered bus rapid transit lines, but more are on the way. So, BRT may become shorthand for “Be Right There.”
The United States has more than two million miles of paved roads. Maintenance is a continual issue for local and state transportation agencies, but new pavements being developed are more sustainable, less costly, and yield other benefits such as capturing stormwater runoff.
There are several innovative pavement types that are gaining traction, including:
Porous pavements: Porous pavements allow stormwater to percolate through the pavement and enter the soil below. Porous pavements work by allowing streets, parking lots, sidewalks, and other typically impervious covers to retain their natural infiltration capacity. In many instances porous pavements can be used in place of conventional asphalt or concrete in an ultra-urban environment. They are generally not suited for areas with high traffic volumes or loads.
Rubberized asphalt: Waste materials like rubber tires are being incorporated into pavement products.
Warm-mix asphalt: A recent survey found that almost a third of all asphalt produced during the 2013 construction season was produced using warm-mix asphalt technologies, compared to less than five percent in 2009.
Visual inspections for roads and bridges often require partial or complete road closures and significant staff time. New technology is enabling robotic inspections that are fully automated and could yield better results than the visual eye.
It is estimated that 30 percent of congestion in cities is due to circling while drivers look for parking.
People want to begin and end their trip with certainty about the details, such as parking availability and payment. New “smart parking” systems automate payments, provide real-time information on available parking spaces, and other services to remove the guesswork and reduce congestion in urban areas.