Trucks Are Clogging America’s Roads, Delivering Goods and Tearing up Yards

Date: Thursday, January 27, 2022
Source: The Wall Street Journal

ATLANTA—Trucks are taking over American roads, fueled by a rise in pandemic online shopping and disruptions to global supply chains.

Along the way they’re chewing up pavement, adding to congestion and infuriating residents, who must contend with 18-wheelers and delivery trucks as soon as they pull out of their driveways. They’re also causing headaches for state and local governments that face multibillion-dollar bills to finance road upkeep and expansions.

The thousands more delivery trucks on neighborhood streets and tractor trailers on interstate highways are solving one problem by creating another.

“Folks don’t like them in their neighborhoods,” said Seth Millican, a transportation expert at the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. “But they want the package they order from Amazon and they want it in two days.”

Those strains converge in Atlanta’s Riverside neighborhood, home to Dustin Hillis, a city council member, who has spent years trying to keep tractor trailers off its residential streets.

“Not a week goes by that I don’t get complaints about trucks running over street signs, stop signs, electrical poles, cutting through people’s yards,” he said.

One of Mr. Hillis’s Riverside constituents, Don Penovi, has taken it upon himself to walk the streets, sometimes wearing a yellow vest, to guide errant trucks back to the highway and to call the city to replace destroyed street signs.

“It seems like it’s been getting worse the last six, eight months or so,” he said.

Tractor trailers, or 18-wheelers, cut through the neighborhood’s narrow, tree-lined streets where there are no sidewalks, to avoid going under a low bridge. Some residents on corner lots have placed traffic cones or boulders at intersections to prevent trucks from plowing through their front yards.

In the summer of 2020, a truck came through Allison Rea’s yard and dragged away two of the three boulders she’d placed there. She hired a forklift to bring them back.

Truck mileage—tractor trailers and delivery trucks combined—on all roads hit a record of nearly 300 billion miles in the 12 months ended September 2021, roughly 2% above the same period in 2019, before the start of the pandemic, according to data from FTR Transportation Intelligence, a freight forecasting firm. Overall traffic, which mostly comprises passenger cars, remained about 3.5% below where it was in the same period of 2019.

FTR estimates truck mileage will grow 4.5% in 2022 over 2021 and 2.9% in 2023.

Analysts don’t expect the surge in trucking to die down even once clogs in the supply chain work themselves out. Depleted business inventories will need to be replenished. A recovery in home building and manufacturing will create more demand for freight. And road and bridge construction funded by the roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill that President Biden signed into law last November will mean more construction trucks.

It’s also likely that online shopping will keep growing, which means vendors are going to need to beef up their freight capacity. Amazon alone recently announced it would purchase 100,000 new electric delivery trucks.

The American Trucking Associations, an industry group, says the U.S. needs an additional 80,000 truck drivers to meet demand. To address the shortage, the Biden administration in November unveiled a plan to make it easier to obtain a commercial driver’s license and to create trucking apprenticeships to draw young people into trucking careers. That could put even more trucks on the road.

“Trucking is like air,” said Rodney Morine, a third-generation truck driver from Opelousas, La. “You don’t think about the air you’re breathing until you don’t have it.”

Over the next three decades, government forecasters expect tractor-trailer traffic to grow almost three times as fast, and single-unit trucks almost four times as fast, as car traffic.

Engineering studies have found that the damage trucks inflict on pavements rises exponentially as the weight on each axle increases. Doubling the axle weight results in up to 16 times as much damage.

 

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