U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said today that states could cut traffic jams in half if they did a more efficient job of using existing highways and that politicians should “pay a price for doing construction projects during rush hours.”
Alexander proposed “rating states top to bottom, 1 to 50, on their efficient use of existing highways, publish the results, and make the ratings an issue in governors’ races. We have fuel efficiency ratings for cars. Why not have highway efficiency ratings for states?”
He said that U.S. Transportation Department officials have told him that as much as half the congestion on federal and state highways is caused by inefficient management of the use of those roads.
“I can’t think of anything we senators could do that would cause our constituents to appreciate us more than cutting the horrendous waste of time Americans spend in traffic jams,” Alexander said.
Alexander made his comment this morning as the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) considered a report that evaluated the nation’s surface transportation needs for the next 25 years.
Alexander said that there are obvious ways to make better use of the highway taxes now collected:
· Allow states to use federal highways funds to pay contractors for roads and bridges after they are already built. Alexander said that could cut in half the amount of time to complete transportation projects.
· Put Congress on a two-year budget and appropriation system so states can plan ahead. “States waste untold billions waiting for the Congress to make up its mind each year about the dollars we will appropriate,” Alexander said.
· Use gas taxes only for highway transportation projects and prohibit those funds from being used for other budget purposes.
Alexander said it is time for the “nation to take a bigger and broader look at our entire system of transportation. For example, improving the Chickamauga Lock near Chattanooga on the Tennessee River would replace the need for 100,000 big trucks a year on Interstate-75,” he said.
Alexander pointed out in the 1980s, when he was governor, Tennessee embarked on three major road programs that built “one of the best four-lane highway systems in the nation.”
“That has been a major factor in attracting the auto industry to Tennessee,” Alexander said, “which now supplies one third of our manufacturing jobs. But there is no need to start talking about how much money we need, or where to get it, until we have a good, clear picture of exactly where we want to go over the next 25 years.”