NORTH METRO ATLANTA, Ga. — All roads deteriorate over time, but weather, drainage, subsoil, camber, maintenance and build quality can speed up the process.
Outside of engineers, few have any idea how these elements can play into a road’s condition. But one factor that can wear down pavement is obvious — traffic volume.
As more consumers turn to online shopping, Amazon, UPS and FedEx delivery trucks have become an almost ubiquitous sight on side streets and residential roads.
Their potential impacts to road degradation goes beyond the occasional pothole, it is a huge expense to repave thoroughfares. Dunwoody’s 2020 budget set aside $3.7 million for repaving and Roswell amended its 2021 budget to account for $2 million in resurfacing expenditures. Alpharetta typically spends about $5 million each year for milling and resurfacing.
Though delivery vans and trucks add volume to streets engineered for lighter use, some local road engineers aren’t overly concerned they could accelerate decline or a need for repaving.
“I really don’t think it would be enough to create an issue with more potholes or having to expedite road resurfacing,” Forsyth County Engineering Director John Cunard said. “In my mind, it would be difficult to pin down future needs for resurfacing and maintenance on local roads needing to be expedited as being attributed solely to the additional traffic volume due to deliveries.”
Alpharetta Public Works Director Pete Sewczwicz said the increase in smaller delivery vehicles, like Amazon’s Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans, “doesn’t warrant concern” for roads deteriorating any quicker than expected.
Items delivered by Amazon vans or UPS trucks are mostly filled with items that were transported by tractor trailer, and that is a bigger issue to Sewczwicz.
Though the city has not conducted a formal survey, Sewczwicz said fewer tractor trailers, which have a much higher impact to roads than delivery vans, are making the rounds through Alpharetta as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. If tractor trailer traffic increases along with residential deliveries, that could possibly have a negative impact on road deterioration.
“The questions really comes to be, nine months from now, if people are back in their offices and have deliveries increased from tractor trailers and have deliveries from vans increased, then we are onto something,” he said.
A major factor in limiting the impact of tractor trailers to Alpharetta’s roads are the city’s designated truck routes, put into place a couple of years ago.
“That has helped tremendously to take the wear and tear off of our local streets that were never designed to handle tractor trailers,” Sewczwicz said.
The state has its truck routes, but Forsyth County, Alpharetta and other local jurisdiction have created their own to keep trucks off local streets to mitigate road wear and improve traffic flow.
These usually include state routes or wider roads engineered for heavy use like Mansell Road, Haynes Bridge Road and McGinnis Ferry Road.
Milton also recently implemented truck routes, but it is too early to document benefits to road surfaces.
Milton Transportation Engineer Sara Leaders said the city completed an initial evaluation of all roads in 2019 and will compare that data to studies for collector and residential roads slated for the next two years.
Though she said larger vehicles do have a greater impact to local roads, it is still too early to tell whether they come with added roadway wear and tear.
“This data collected will account for our implemented truck routes as well as new trends with delivery vehicles,” Leaders said. “We really will not know the impacts of these new trends until we have the same consultant conduct the second evaluation in future years.”