NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Caution: Road Work Ahead

October 9, 2015

Politicians and civil engineers alike often refer to America's immense surface transportation system as "our nation's crumbling infrastructure." Major segments of the system are in need of renovation, and its problems are exacerbated by deferred maintenance and unstable, inadequate revenue sources. New approaches to funding, financing, operating, and maintaining the US transportation system are necessary.

America's transportation system is dogged by an array of problems that hinder its performance.

  • The 46,876 miles of interstate highways in the United States contain 55,512 bridges and 82 tunnels, and the National Highway System includes an additional 117,000 miles of major roads. The overall road system covers more than 4 million miles of state roads and millions of miles of local streets
  • Americans traveled almost 3 trillion miles on U.S. roads in 2011, which was nearly double the amount traveled in 1980.
  • In 2014, congestion wasted 6.9 billion hours of motorists' travel time and almost 3.1 billion gallons of fuel costing about $160 billion in 2014.
  • The revenue sources available to operate, maintain, and -- where necessary -- expand the road network are often unstable and inadequate.

Deferred maintenance of roads, bridges, and tunnels in the United States is endemic and growing, and its long-term social costs are high. New approaches to funding, financing, operating, and maintaining the U.S. transportation system are necessary.

Policymakers should adhere to three main principles: infrastructure should be paid for by those who use it, ideally through user fees; public-private partnerships should be used to streamline financing, operations, and maintenance; and public policy should complement emerging transportation technologies, especially those related to vehicle autonomy.

Source: R. Richard Geddes, "America's Transportation Challenges: Proposals for Reform," American Enterprise Institute, September 2015.

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