NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Traffic Reaching Saturation on Interstates

January 17, 2003

Increased traffic on interstate highways is beginning to choke the system's capacity to move people and goods, concludes a report by the Road Information Program, a Washington, D.C., based non-profit group supported by the transportation industry.

According to the report:

  • Travel on the nation's 45,000 miles of interstates increased by 37 percent between 1991 and 2001.
  • But the number of miles added to the system during the 10 years has increased by only 5 percent.
  • Congestion has grown so bad on interstates in metro areas that two out of every five miles of urban interstates experience significant traffic delays on a daily basis.
  • The five states with the busiest interstates are California, Maryland, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Washington.

Drawing on data from the Federal Highway Administration, the report predicted that traffic on the system will increase 42 percent over the next two decades, while truck traffic is expected to grow 54 percent.

There was some good news, however.

  • The amount of interstate miles listed in poor or mediocre condition fell from 27 percent in 1996 to 16 percent in 2001.
  • In 1996, 25 percent of interstate bridges were rated as either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete -- a figure which dropped to 21 percent in 2001.

Source: Fred Bayles, "Interstates Can't Handle Much More, Report Says," USA Today, January 17, 2003; based on "The Interstate Highway System: Saving Lives, Time and Money, but Increasing Congestion Threatens Benefits," The Road Information Program, January 16, 2003.

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