America’s crumbling road infrastructure has been a hot debate subject for more than a decade. Our roads are littered with potholes and need major investment. Yet nothing seems to happen.
It’s a new year and we have a new administration in the White House, so perhaps that’s set to change? In the meantime, research shows the shocking quality of our roads is costing your customers money in wear and tear on their tires.
Today, we look at ways you can show your customers you’re on their side when it comes to doing something about our roads.
First, a look at the problem — and it’s huge
There hasn’t been a major investment in road infrastructure since $800 billion was spent, nationally, more than a decade ago. Now, whether you live on the East Coast or the West Coast, in the North or down South, all you have to do is take a drive to see irrefutable evidence of the country’s crumbling roads.
Whether your shop is in rural or metropolitan America, you’ll see bridges falling down and roads that are cracked and holed. These cracks, holes, and uneven expansion plates are what induce an extraordinary amount of wear on both tires and suspension components.
Here’s an examples of what crumbling roads mean in practice
Representative Bill Shuster recently called a hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, of which he is the chairman. He named this hearing “Building a Twenty-First Century Infrastructure for America.” One of the people who testified at this hearing was the chief executive of FedEx, Fred Smith.
Smith told the committee that his company is going through tires twice as fast as they did 20 years.
“All of us know what it’s like to buy a tire for our car,” he said. “Over the past 20 years, our over-the-road vehicles’ tire utilization has been cut in half. So we’re using almost 100 percent more tires to produce the same mileage of transportation. Why is that? Because the infrastructure has so many potholes in it it’s eating up tires faster than was the case before.”
Consumers are spending more as well
It’s not just shipping and transportation companies that are spending more money on tires, though. Consumers are also spending money on replacement tires and tire repairs.
The U.S. Department of Transportation released a report recently that shows consumers are spending more on vehicle maintenance than they did a few years ago. Much of this increase has been seen in fuel usage, mostly because poor roads have required longer detours and caused more traffic delays, but they are also spending more on tires because of road roughness, long detours, and the increase in potholes.
Other countries are managing to fix their roads
Most countries in Western Europe don’t have this problem. There are a few reasons for this. The most important is that European governments require a 30- to 40-year warranty on major road projects when they sign contracts for them. Another reason is that the contracts signed require minimum percentages of recycled asphalt and tires in all new roads built. Finally, contracts set exacting construction standards for roadway and base thickness and strength. Most governments in the U.S. don’t require anywhere near that long of a warranty and zero percentage of recycled asphalt and tires. Minimum construction standards are rarely set.
Congress talks and talks but never appears to do much to fix it
The last Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, HR 22 — the FAST Act, or the “Fixing America’s Infrastructure Act.”
It’s got a nice name, but it doesn’t do much to get our roads up to the condition of the roads in Europe, let alone a condition that will eliminate needless wear and tear on your customers’ cars and tires.
This is because:
• It allows states to use grant money to pay off fees and interest from previous programs instead of putting the money to use actually fixing the roads.
• It directs most monies actually spent on infrastructure projects to mostly those roads and highways that Congress has deemed important.
• It also requires that some of the money for infrastructure projects come from private sources or the project doesn’t get funded.
Another problem with this law is the number of pork barrel amendments that are tacked on at the end. Very few of these amendments actually have anything to do with mandating and funding infrastructure improvements. Although the bill appropriates funds for infrastructure over the next few years, the amounts it appropriates need to be higher for there to be a significant positive infrastructure improvement.
Here’s what needs to be done
During the hearing, everyone who testified said more money needed to be spent on road construction. The American Society of Civil Engineers said that the United States will have a roadway infrastructure deficit of close to four trillion dollars over the next few years. Rep. Shuster and President Trump both mentioned the need to spend one trillion dollars on needed infrastructure repair and upgrades.
A big problem with American roads is that contracts mandate faster construction over high quality. To solve the road issues, this has to end. Roadway bases have to be thicker and should all be concrete. A thicker layer of asphalt should have minimum percentages of recycled asphalt to save money on the roadway cost per square foot. Recycled tires should also be used.
What you can do to help your customers save money
But what can you do about the problem? Get involved. Start campaigning. Show your customers you are on their side. Start a campaign on social media. Put some of your marketing or advertising budget against it. Create posters and brochures. Get other local auto industry businesses involved and pool your resources.
In the campaign, encourage your customers to contact their representatives at all levels to spend more money on needed infrastructure improvements. Include in your marketing material contact information for local, state, and federal legislative bodies that spend money on infrastructure projects, authorize its spending, or request state and federal grants.
Let customers know that unless legislators are constantly badgered by voters about the need to spend money on infrastructure improvements in their jurisdictions and districts, nothing will change.
In your campaign, identify particularly bad local roads. Call for strict minimum section thickness and minimum percentages of recycled materials used during construction to help offset the cost of the added thickness for durability. Encourage including inspections in every contract for repair or replacement projects. And don’t forget to include some statistics about how much bad roads are costing in wear and tear on vehicles and tires.
And here’s why this can work for your business
What you’re doing in running a campaign like this is associating yourself with an issue your customers (and community) will be passionate about. You’re showing community leadership and corporate social responsibility. You’re also showing customers that you’re on their side — you’ve seen firsthand the damage crumbling roads are doing to vehicles, the potential safety risks and the extra costs.
These are all good associations for your business. Not only might that help bring new customers in the door and keep existing customers loyal, but there’s a chance you just might help create a change that will benefit your community.