February 26, 2019
Daniel Speer recently spent nearly a full day out on the road, visiting prospective clients around the Washington, D.C. area alongside one of his home remodeling company’s project managers. By the time he returned home that evening, his focus was on a repair job
“We hit three jobs in the D.C. metro area, and it took almost six hours,” Speer, vice president at Case Design Remodeling in Washington, said in an interview. “When we meet with the clients and assess site conditions, that takes 15 minutes, a half-hour at the very most. So the rest of that six hours was spent on the road. I was shocked.”
Speer’s company has a fleet of more than 50 vehicles that zig and zag their way across the Washington metropolitan area every day, including the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia, heading to and from the homes of a diverse array of clients seeking new kitchens, bathrooms, and basements. Increasingly poor road conditions and aging infrastructure throughout the area lead to more congestion, he explains, which in turn leads to fewer client visits and less work accomplished every day.
“Traffic and infrastructure are a really big deal for us,” he says. “When I’m sending someone to do a demo job in the District of Columbia, I have to schedule them for several hours longer than I would if they were going somewhere else. It makes it difficult to do business.”
It’s not just the time lost in traffic that has Speer frustrated with the state of the area’s roadways.
“We have to spend a lot more money on our fleet because of flat tires and vehicles out of alignment,” Speer says. “Not to mention that we’re putting brakes on these vehicles every couple of months.”
Case Design Remodeling and other D.C. area small businesses are in a particularly challenging spot, as our nation’s capital region is home to some of the most crippled roadways in the country. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) in its latest infrastructure report card gave the District of Columbia a D+ grade in its “roads” category. On a per-vehicle basis, the city has the highest congestion costs out of the largest 101 urban areas in the country and the most recorded hours of delay, ASCE found.
However, Washington-area businesses are hardly alone.
On a national level, America’s entire infrastructure earned the same D+ grade from ASCE, which identified a $2 trillion infrastructure gap, including investments for surface transportation like bridges and roadways. More than four in 10 of U.S. roadways are in poor or mediocre condition, and nearly one in every 10 bridges has been deemed structurally deficient. By 2025, our nation’s failing infrastructure systems will have cost American businesses $7 trillion.
Moreover, roadway features are likely a contributing factor in approximately a third of traffic fatalities, according to national transportation research group TRIP, while motor vehicle crashes in which roadways were a likely contributing factor cost American motorists $101.1 billion per year.
In large part, our country’s failing infrastructure is due to lagging investment. While population, road congestion and maintenance backlogs have ballooned, investment into maintaining, repairing and upgrading our critical infrastructure systems has slipped.
“You don’t have to be a civil engineer to know that our nation’s infrastructure is falling apart,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue wrote recently. “All you have to do is leave your house. The evidence is everywhere – and affects everyone.”
Donohue has called for a four-pillar approach to turning the tide and rebuilding our infrastructure. Those pillars include a long-term, sustainable funding source to repair our roads, bridges, and transit systems; for instance, a modest increase to the federal fuel user fee. Second, the U.S. Chamber has called for innovative financing solutions to pay for key infrastructure projects, including public and private funds.
Third, any solution would have to permanently streamline permitting processes – so that projects don’t take longer to approve than to build. And fourth, as Donohue put it, “we must make sure we have the skilled workers ready to take on new projects.”
“Leaders on both sides agree that this needs to be done – now they need to act,” Donohue said.
A legislative solution that paved the way to better roadways and modern surface infrastructure would be a windfall for Speer, his company and his customers.
“If roads are better,” Speer says, “our bottom line increases, and we can pass on savings to our clients.”