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August 31, 2017


The nation's economy depends on trucking, but that method of shipment comes with a price. Engineers estimate that a fully loaded truck--a five-axle rig weighing 80,000 pounds, the interstate maximum--causes more damage to a highway than 5,000 cars. Some road planners say that the toll is even higher, that it would take close to 10,000 cars to equal the damage caused by one heavy truck. When the trucks are overloaded, as quite a few of them are, the damage is exponentially worse. Increasing a truck's weight to 90,000 pounds results in a 42 percent increase in road wear. Pavement designed to last 20 years wears out in seven.
Too Big for The Road: Massive trucks are tearing up fragile state highways. And more of them are out there every year.

I've seen a few suggestions that trucks should pay their fair share of road costs, but none that really faces the scope of the problem. Do other countries have a better solution?

Yeah, scheduled long-haul freight delivery by rail, with spurs to the warehouses, then last-mile on much smaller trucks, looks really good.

Interesting stuff about costs, Doc. I remember a long-ago rabble-rousing headline that declared, "Businesses will pass postal rate increase along to customers." I remember thinking: Well duh.

I'm not by a long shot a cheerleader for business as such, but even I know that a business can't eat costs forever. TNSTAAFL, a saying from my villainous baby-boomer youth.

I've been over the Penobscot Narrows bridge and the Zakim in Boston. Both cable-stayed, both beautiful IMO. I went over the predecessor to the current Penobscot Narrows bridge a few times before they declared it so decrepit that (IIRC) trucks were banned, or there was only one lane, or something. At that point I started going downeast on the inland route until the new bridge was built.

Time does fly.

Penobscot Narrows of course also has beautiful views from the bridge; whether you can say that of the Zakim is a matter of taste. ;-)

I used to take the Amtrak Downeaster to Boston about once a month, and you go right along below the Zakim as you approach North Station. That's kind of interesting too.

P.S. I've been across the Tappan Zee once or twice in my life...once probably in college on a trip from Cambridge to Baltimore. All I remember is loving the name.


The name is interesting, because it's only half Dutch! The Tappan were a Lenape group that lived in the area in the 17th C.

Michael Cain:

In what part of the world is this combo currently used? In the US at present freight trains are much too slow to replace most truck traffic, which is largely just-in-time.

The US still has a LOT of rail freight, but most of it is for very heavy cargoes, especially coal, which really can't go very fast. In much of the country the rail lines are "single-lane", so the speed anything can travel is pretty much limited by the speed of coal trains. Putting in a second, express (passenger & fast freight) track for the whole country would be *astronomically* expensive.

I don't know if Japan is there and it has some geographic advantages (adding sea travel as an option for freight), but they are pushing it here. Here is a pdf about it.


I don't think that what was done in Japan is possible in the US, but a lot of that is because the country has already made the investment in the Shinkansen, which provides and express track for passengers

Not only are US train tracks single-lane, in places they are single track, which means that trains have to wait on signal for the critical section to be vacated by the train coming the other way. I sat above Monterey Bay for about an hour on an Amtrak service waiting for the freight train coming the other way to clear the block.

Yes, new rail lines would be expensive - but if you're going to have to rebuild the freeways, that's going to be expensive too! You'll just have to choose the lesser evil.

FWIW I think autonomous electric vehicles are going to kill hub-and-spoke mass transit. Who wants to take the bus to the train to the bus (or walk 15 minutes each end of a subway commute) when you can effectively take a taxi for 1/5th their current price? In most medium-sized cities, particularly in the US, autonomous electric car services will also radically reduce traffic congestion as huge numbers of single-occupancy vehicles are replaced by 6- or 8-seater on-demand vehicles. Surge pricing around rush hour will also incentivize people to spread out their commutes more.

Obviously megacities will still need mass subsurface transit to keep up with demand.

I guess fully-autonomous rail freight with autonomous last-ten-mile trucks could wind up more cost-effective than trucks going the whole distance, particularly if the trucks go electric. But you are then left with the challenge of stringing multiple thousands of miles of electrified rail lines across the country. I guess you could save some by going third-rail rather than catenary.

The UK allows somewhat heavier lorries (HGVs, trucks) to be used for combined road-rail transport.

what i've never understood about the tappan zee is - why there? it's the widest part of the river north of the city.

Who wants to take the bus to the train to the bus (or walk 15 minutes each end of a subway commute) when you can effectively take a taxi for 1/5th their current price?

people who don't seek Death By Algorithm.

FWIW I think autonomous electric vehicles are going to kill hub-and-spoke mass transit. Who wants to take the bus to the train to the bus (or walk 15 minutes each end of a subway commute) when you can effectively take a taxi for 1/5th their current price?

Already happening to some degree.

These days, gas is relatively cheap, with an average price of $2.34 per gallon across America as of Wednesday, according to AAA. But while less-expensive fuel makes running trains and buses cheaper, it also makes it more affordable for people to drive themselves instead. So, as it turns out, low fuel prices are actually bad for public transportation.
Low Fuel Prices Are Hurting Public Transportation Across America, Study Finds: More people are driving instead of riding trains and buses.

Why there? To be outside the NY Port Authority region.

I'm surprised you haven't been across this bridge, Doc Sci. It's especially cool to drive across at night when the architectural lighting is on.


My fave bridge? (and yes, I've been across the old Tappen Zee, and the Chesapeake bridge/tunnel/bridge/tunnel...)

The high bridge across the Meuse river, over the city where the saxophone was invented. Not so long, but awesome view.

Then you arrive on the west side, where there's a little village mentioned by Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August, in a real heatstrings-pulling passage.

Here are a couple of comforting (or at least anxiety-reducing) features noted in at the Wiki link, in the event you do cross the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal Bridge (officially the Senator William V. Roth, Jr. Bridge):

Pull-off emergency shoulders on both sides (under the current striping arrangement)

The bridge also incorporates a 3% climbing grade, a feature lacked on the nearby St. Georges Bridge.

Pro Bono:

Yup. It was about getting the toll money to pay for the NY Thruway, not for the Port Authority.

And now all the other infrastructure has grown up around it, so it's impossible to put the new bridge anywhere else.

For fun, some of the history of the old bridge across the Penobscot. I had forgotten how suddenly they downgraded the old bridge.

We're leaving tomorrow for a week on the wild west coast of Scotland, first to stay in a deeply eccentric hotel in an astonishingly beautiful place, but with no phone reception and almost no WiFi (the last time we stayed there they said, vaguely, "Oh, we think you might be able to get WiFi on the green sofa") and then to stay somewhere we've never been before, but overlooking the little town where they filmed Local Hero, if anybody saw that. Some bridges are involved near Glasgow, but nothing of such interest that it bears mentioning in this thread. Certainly nothing as spectacular as this, which is nowhere near where we are going.
We will however be passing at length by the bonny bonny banks of Loch Lomond, which was indeed very bonny the last time in a thunderstorm, with small streams and waterfalls (not normally there) cascading down the beautiful mountains. It was very reminiscent of the mountains in Hong Kong after a rainstorm or typhoon - Dr Ngo will understand what I mean. I anticipate very little luxury, but fabulous views and seafood during the whole trip. Then back to the homestead for a couple of days, and down to the New Forest for some luxury and again wonderful food. It's not my longed-for US road trip, but hopefully it will all constitute some necessary R+R. Til we meet again, etc etc.

Loved Local Hero. Just watched it again recently (within the past year or so) to remind myself. Take some pictures! I used to know how to embed pictures in comments, we could probably figure it out again. Or, if you use Flickr or one of those.....

I loved Local Hero too. "We have here an injured rabbit, also". I don't use Flickr, or anything sensible. I will take photos on my phone, and then if anything is good enough I will ask the commentariat for instructions on how to get them into a comment. People here are the only reason I can use HTML tags, or a href, or (in your case) Control F, or indeed anything useful. So we'll see...

A front page travelogue is also possible...

I wanna go.

The bridge that terrified me when I lived in NJ 30 years ago was the Garden State Parkway bridge over the Raritan River. I had to occasionally cross that headed south during the evening rush hour. It wasn't so bad at first: striped for three lanes of southbound traffic, a generous right-hand shoulder and a narrow left-hand one. Then they sandblasted the paint off and striped it with four lanes and no shoulder. Then they sandblasted the paint off and striped it for five lanes of traffic. Bumper-to-bumper at 65 mph, with side-to-side spacing that would do NASCAR proud. Then the state police stopped random vehicles on the approach and found that 20% of the drivers had had two drinks before heading home...

My favorite bridge, the Sunshine Skyway over Tampa Bay:


It's very high and very long, and I also have a bit of a phobia about bridges, so I'm white-knuckled every time I cross it. But the view is beautiful, especially at night.

My favorite bridge not built by government.

I drove the Sunshine Skyway two summers ago.

Passed by the east entrance of the Tappan Zee last month, but was headed for points north on that side, so next time.

"My favorite bridge not built by government."

A gorgeous span.

Who built it? Leprechauns?



Who built it? Leprechauns?

Not so much built by government, but allowed to be built by various government entities. Financed by private property pledged as collateral.

Does it count as "government" if the state legislature creates a special district to build the bridge? Which then sells bonds to finance the project, hires the staff to build it, etc.

It gets folks from one side of the water to the other, just like all the other bridges.

The Hoover Dam was built by Six Companies, Inc. for it's government client.

The Space Shuttle was built by Rockwell International for its government client. O-Rings by I forget which corporation.

Government computer systems are built by you name it in the private sector.

When all of the above fail, its the government's incompetent fault. When they work its private sector entrepreneurial ingenuity.

Who fucked all of you Americans up with these laughable delusions?

The private schools?

A note on rail freight: most stuff manufactured in China is in containers that land at Los Angeles/Oakland/Seattle, and then go by rail to east of the Rockies (at least). I've spent time near the UP line through Yuma, and about every 30 minutes a mile-long train goes by, all containers (and at 60 mph). Over the last 10 years most of the line has been converted to double track, paid for (AFAIK) by the railroad. So it is more than just coal. BUT, every transfer from A to B is expensive and complicated, so one truck is a lot cheaper than rail/truck/truck in most cases.

My wife and I took the new bridge for the first time Friday. Seemed good. I remember the first time I took the Tap. I was a kid then, and I thought the ends of the bridge were dangerously close to the water, but then I used to be afraid of big bridges generally. Crossing the St. Lawrence to go to my grandfather's camp in Gananoque (near Kingston) always scared the bejeezus out of me.

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