Baltimore area roads cost drivers an extra $603 per year, report says

Thoroughfares ranked 10th worst in country

September 23, 2010|By Yeganeh June Torbati, The Baltimore Sun

A dodged pothole here, an uncomfortable bump there — navigating Baltimore-area thoroughfares isn't just a tax on drivers' sanity. The region's roads rank 10th-worst among urban areas and cost drivers an extra $603 per year, according to a report released Wednesday by a national transportation group.

Driving on neglected urban roads — including interstates, freeways and local routes — increases drivers' costs by accelerating wear and tear on vehicles and upping gas consumption, according to The Road Information Program, the Washington-based transportation research group that released the report.

According to the group, 46 percent of Baltimore-area roads are in poor condition, almost double the percentage nationwide. Roads in the San Jose, Calif., region were ranked the nation's worst.

Frank Moretti, who wrote the report, said in an interview that the rankings were compiled by measuring vibrations felt by drivers. The more vibrations felt, the rougher the roads, he said.

Urban areas that are hubs for delivering goods often have the worst roads, he said. "The larger trucks all put a lot of stress on those systems."

About 75 percent of the more than $300 million Maryland received from federal stimulus funds to maintain state highways went to resurfacing, said Valerie Burnette Edgar, a State Highway Administration spokeswoman. Those repairs, she said, would not be reflected in the TRIP report, which used data from 2008.

"With the money that we have available, we do have a proactive plan to keep things in good condition as well as address the poor pavements," she said, adding that the state normally spends about $200 million a year on resurfacing.

"The interstate system is our priority," Edgar said, because of the heavy traffic it receives and the danger of encountering potholes or other road problems at high speeds.

Some urban areas ranked well, despite having heavily traveled roads. Only 1 percent of Atlanta-area roads, for instance, were rated as poor, Moretti said. He attributed the good grade partly to the state of Georgia's move toward using longer-lasting pavement materials.

Edgar said resurfaced roads generally last from 12 to 15 years before they are due for major repairs, but the time between repairs in Maryland can vary with weather conditions. This year, for instance, was particularly tough on roads because of heavy snowfall and an extremely hot summer, she said.

She said the highway department continually looks at new asphalt mixtures that can last longer, but Georgia may have more mixtures to choose from because the state sees less extremely cold weather. "Some mixes that will work in one place won't necessarily work in another."

The TRIP report places much of the blame for poor road conditions on state budget shortfalls, and argues for sustained, long-term federal funding.

Maryland's highway funds are already stretched thin: Between 2008 and 2009, the highway trust fund lost $2.1 billion, and federal stimulus funds could not make up for that decline. But Moretti said that investments made in improving roads can jump-start economies in the short term by providing jobs and in the long term by increasing travel efficiency.

jtorbati@baltsun.com

The nation's worst urban roads

San Jose

Los Angeles

Honolulu

Concord, Cal.

San Francisco-Oakland

New Orleans

New York/Newark

San Diego

Indio/Palm Springs, Cal.

Baltimore

Source: The Road Information Program

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