Fleet owners must find ways around congested roadways

Tools such as route optimization software can give many small and midsize businesses a competitive edge when it comes to making ground deliveries on time.

Road congestion has become an increasingly important issue for fleet owners over the last several years. Population numbers in major metropolitan areas throughout the U.S. continue to climb at a relatively rapid pace. While mass transit infrastructure has improved in some cities, a large number of individuals continue to commute to and from work in their own automobiles every day. This can make it harder for drivers of vans and heavy-duty trucks to transport products as quickly as possible - especially when there is such heavy traffic on major highways and road systems.

We may have already reached 'peak road'
Further complicating matters is the possibility that the U.S. may have already used up the last remaining space for new road infrastructure to connect metropolitan areas. According to theTransportationist blog, which is run by David Levinson, a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Minnesota, growth in nationwide public road and street mileage has tapered off in recent years. For years, the federal and state transportation agencies have worked tirelessly to pave roads, which until 2008, had led to a steady increase in the number of passable roads. However, the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) suggests the country has approached "peak road." In other words, any new paved mileage will likely have little to no overall impact on the economy.

Other ways to measure the economic impact of roads
A recent article from The Atlantic Cities pointed out that the recent reduction in mileage growth may be a mere statistical blip as a result of the Great Recession. Many municipalities have delayed infrastructure improvement plans due to budget issues. The publication also reported that general mileage isn't necessarily the only valuable measurement of U.S. transportation systems. For example, economists can measure end-to-end length of roads, otherwise known as centerline miles. They can also look at total road capacity, which is determined by multiplying the length of a road by the number of traffic lanes it has.

Focusing on lane miles paints a more positive picture for fleet owners who may be more worried about the effects of traffic congestion on their daily operations. In fact, road-widening projects represent one of the last remaining opportunities to truly expand the economic efficiency and value of current infrastructure.

"In that sense, even if centerline mileage has peaked, lane miles will no doubt continue to grow as highways and interstates are widened," the article stated. "This lateral growth may be needed in some under-developed parts of the country to keep up with population."

Still, many fleet managers, distributors and other transportation-related business owners are now feeling the results of years of rapid growth in U.S. highway systems. The threat of overpopulated roads may ultimately create obstacles for companies that depend on the ability to deliver products as quickly and safely as possible. However, the use of automated technology such as direct route software can prove to be a valuable tool for both managers and drivers. By making it easier to plan ahead on a daily basis, identify less-congested streets and coordinate multiple assignments in one trip, firms may eventually limit the negative effects of excessive motor traffic.

Preparing for new challenges in the future
The approaching peak in road mileage in the U.S. may coincide with a more gradual shift in automobile culture. For example, many cities have even considered reducing the number of lanes on major arteries to make room for bus rapid transit systems and other forms of public transportation. Chicago-based NPR affiliate WBEZ reported a similar plan currently under consideration by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) would likely cause overall traffic to move slower in on a stretch of Ashland Avenue, which runs north and south throughout most of the city. 

These trends simply represent the latest change fleet owners must be ready and willing to embrace to continue generating a profit in the long run. Logistics software is a reliable tool for organizations that may otherwise struggle to adapt to new ways of doing business.