January 25, 2017

Spaghetti Junction wins again: voted most congested truck road for second straight year

Atlanta interchange continues to frustrate truckers, motorists alike.

By DC Velocity Staff

Metropolitan Atlanta's infamous intersection known to locals as "Spaghetti Junction" has been named the nation's most congested truck interchange for 2016, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), the trucking industry's nonprofit research group, said today.

This marks the second consecutive year that Spaghetti Junction, officially known as the "Tom Moreland Interchange" after Georgia's transportation commissioner from 1975 to 1987, has captured the dubious honor. The stretch sits at the confluence of Interstates 85 and 285—the latter being metro Atlanta's perimeter—and also provides ramp access to four secondary roadways. It is a five-level stack interchange that is a well-known nightmare for truckers and motorists alike, especially starting at around 2 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, when big rigs begin to roll.

The next five were Interstate 95 and State Route 4 in New Jersey approaching the George Washington Bridge heading into New York; Interstates 90, 94, and 290 in Chicago; Interstates 64, 65, and 71 in Louisville, Ky.; Interstates 71 and 75 in Cincinnati; and State Routes 57 and 60 in Los Angeles. Another Atlanta chokepoint, Interstates 85 and 285, made the top ten, finishing ninth.

The ATRI list assesses truck congestion levels at 250 locations on the national highway system. The analysis is based on GPS data culled from the operations of more than 600,000 heavy-duty trucks.

ATRI estimates that road congestion on the 161,000-mile National Highway System, which includes the 44,000-mile Interstate Highway System, cost the trucking industry $49.6 billion in 2014, the last year that full-year numbers were available. Congestion resulted in 728 million hours of lost driver productivity, equal to 264,500 commercial drivers sitting idle for one year, ATRI said.

About 18 percent of the national system accounts for 88 percent of the congestion, ATRI said, adding that efforts to reduce or eliminate the major bottlenecks could go a long way toward solving the congestion problem.

The American Trucking Associations (ATA), which represents the nation's large truck fleets, has assembled a task force comprised of 11 CEOs to lobby Congress and the Trump administration for sufficient funding for infrastructure improvements. The task force said it supports an increase in the federal motor fuels tax indexed for inflation, a "barrel tax" on oil, and the elimination of federal fuel tax exemptions. It opposes tolling existing interstate highways, weight distance fees where levies are imposed on trucks running through states, and increases in the "heavy vehicle use tax," among others.

ATA has long supported a hike in the federal tax on diesel and gasoline consumption, saying it is the most efficient funding mechanism because it is relatively inexpensive to administer and revenue is captured at the moment the commodity is purchased. However, the group has effectively written off any increase during 2017, noting the Trump administration's stern opposition to any tax increases. Federal taxes on fuels have not been raised since 1993.

The Trump administration has proposed between $1 trillion and $1.3 trillion in infrastructure improvements. Late yesterday, Senate Democrats unveiled a 10-year, $1 trillion infrastructure spending plan that include allocations of $100 billion for roads and bridges, $50 billion for freight rail and Amtrak, and $65 billion to improve airports, seaports, and inland waterways.

To fund part of the work, Democrats proposed to create an entity similar to a "national infrastructure bank" that would unlock pools of capital to provide low-cost loans or loan guarantees. Providing the fund with $10 billion in seed money could leverage over $100 billion in private investment over 10 years, according to the proposal.

Walter Kemmsies, managing director, economist, and chief strategist of the ports practice for Chicago-based real estate and logistics services giant JLL Inc., told the SMC3 annual winter meeting in Atlanta today that infrastructure investment must be focused on supporting U.S. export traffic by making it faster and more efficient to get high-value goods from inland points to sea and air gateways. Unlike once-small nations that have grown targeting exports in their infrastructure investments, the U.S. has earmarked spending to facilitate the flow of import traffic, Kemmsies said.

Kemmsies also said U.S. road improvement projects must be brought into the 21st century by incorporating high-tech instruments, such as tracking sensors that enable officials to better analyze traffic data, into the construction process. "We are the only country in the world that replaces roads with the same type of roads we built 50 years ago," he said.

Late today, the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) issued a statement saying it was encouraged by the Democrats plan, adding that freight connections to and from U.S. ports are "falling behind" 21st century commerce needs.

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