Let’s hear it for Arkadelphia!
The pride of Clark County — apologies to Gurdon and Gum Springs — made the big time as one of the most costly congested National Highway System segments in America for truck drivers. To be clear, Arkadelphia achieved its ranking on a per-mile basis, but $887,749 per mile is nothing to sneeze at.
The American Transportation Research Institute released its 2017 “Cost of Congestion to the Trucking Industry” report on Tuesday. (The data-heavy report is based on 2015 statistics.) The ATRI is the nonprofit research organization for the American Trucking Associations, and ArcBest Corp. CEO and President Judy McReynolds is the chairwoman of the ATRI board of directors.
Arkadelphia sits on Interstate 30 and Highway 7 and has a total of only 83 highway miles within its metropolitan area. Its truck traffic problems are well known and will undoubtedly get worse after Shandong Sun Paper Industry opens a $1.3 billion pulp mill plant in a few years.
Shandong chose the Clark County site in part because of its proximity to Interstate 30. The plant will process at least 400 truckloads of small timber every day, which means there will be a lot more truck traffic in an already beleaguered area when the plant opens.
Finishing second in cost-per-mile congestion wasn’t Arkadelphia’s only accomplishment in the ATRI report. Arkadelphia’s congestion woes have actually grown worse — worse than any other metropolitan area in the nation.
Arkadelphia’s 2015 congestion cost the trucking companies $74 million, an increase of more than $53 million from 2014. That 2014 total comes out to just under $638,000 a mile, the worst increase in the United States.
Statewide traffic congestion cost the trucking industry nearly $730 million in 2015, a 27.5 percent increase from the 2014 total of $572 million and change. Arkansas has 8,893 highway miles so it works out to more than $82,000 per mile.
Arkadelphia’s traffic woes are bad but pale in comparison to the raw numbers of what are truly major metropolitan areas. The Ogden-Clearfield, Utah, area had the worst per-mile congestion cost at $914,879, but its overall total was more than $566 million — almost $500 million more than little ol’ Arkadelphia — because it has 619 miles of highway.
The national numbers in the report are awful and, hopefully, inspiring to those with the responsibility to get things corrected. After his election as president, Donald Trump spoke of a massive $1 trillion spending plan to improve the nation’s transportation infrastructure. American Trucking Associations President Chris Spear spoke optimistically of Trump’s willingness to substantially help the transportation industry when he was in Rogers for the Arkansas Trucking Association’s annual conference in early May.
The ATRI report said the trucking industry lost 996 million hours of operation because of congestion delays. It said that was comparable to 362,243 truck drivers being sidelined for the entire year, which comes out to about $63.4 billion in added costs every year.
“Congestion increases motor carrier operating costs through wasted fuel, increased labor costs, vehicle wear and tear, and puts additional stresses on professional drivers as available on-duty and drive hours are spent sitting in traffic — which anecdotally contributes to the truck driver shortage crisis,” the ATRI said in the report’s introduction. “Secondary impacts include inflationary effects from inefficiencies in the nation’s supply chain as pick-up and delivery schedules are impacted by traffic delays.”
Arkadelphia isn’t looking quite as bad now, is it?
It seems self-explanatory that having the equivalent of 362,243 drivers picking up and delivering goods is better than having them stuck in traffic at an interstate bottleneck. The ATRI report had some concrete examples of how improvements — which, duh, costs millions of dollars to build and increase congestion during construction — will eventually save time and money.
(As Interstate 49 in northwest Arkansas seems to be in a state of continual construction, it is worth remembering how smoothly traffic flows during those brief miles where the third lane of interstate is open.)
Trucking in Missouri saw a significant decrease of nearly $300 million in congestion costs from 2014 to 2015. The ATRI said the reasons were clear: the Daniel Boone Bridge system and the Route 364 project, both in the St. Louis area, greatly alleviated congestion by creating expanded and new traffic lanes.