• Reform the federal highway program to emphasize performance management, cost-benefit analysis, and accountability;
  • Direct federal transportation policies, programs, and resources to enhance U.S. global competitiveness, interstate commerce, passenger travel, and emergency preparedness;
  • Significantly increase spending at all levels of government to repair, improve, and expand the nation's surface transportation system;
  • Increase funding for long-term, advanced highway research;
  • Address the long-term viability of fuel taxes for transportation funding, and explore the viability of the most promising options to strengthen this funding;
  • Establish a national policy goal of achieving zero deaths on America's roadways. Funding in the Highway Safety Improvement Program should be increased by 10%.


Our nation’s economy and our quality of life require a highway and roadway system that provides a safe, reliable, efficient, and comfortable driving environment. Although highway fatalities and traffic-related injuries declined in 2007, the drop is most likely attributable to people driving less. Still, in 2007, 41,059 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes and 2,491,000 were injured. 4 Motor vehicle crashes cost the U.S. $230 billion per year--$819 for each resident in medical costs, lost productivity, travel delays, workplace costs, insurance costs, and legal costs.1 These findings are clearly unacceptable.

Next to safety, congestion has become the most critical challenge facing our highway system. Congestion continues to worsen to the point at which Americans spend 4.2 billion hours a year stuck in traffic at a cost of $78.2 billion a year in wasted time and fuel costs--$710 per motorist. 1 The average daily percentage of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) under congested conditions rose from 25.9% in 1995 to 31.6% in 2004, congestion in large urban areas exceeding 40%.  2 And as a result of increased congestion, total fuel wasted climbed from 1.7 billion gallons in 1995 to 2.9 billion gallons in 2005. 5

Poor road conditions lead to excessive wear and tear on motor vehicles and can also lead to increased numbers of crashes and delays. According to the Federal Highway Administration, while the percentage of VMT occurring on roads classified as having “good” ride quality has steadily improved, the percentage of “acceptable” ride quality steadily declined from 86.6% in 1995 to 84.9% in 2004, with the lowest acceptable ride quality found among urbanized roads at 72.4%. 2  These figures represent a failure to achieve significant increases in good and acceptable ride quality, particularly in heavily trafficked urbanized areas.

Compounding the problem are steadily increasing demands on the system. From 1980-2005, while automobile VMT increased 94% and truck VMT increased 105%, highway lane-miles grew by only 3.5%. From 1994-2004, ton miles of freight moved by truck grew 33%. 6 The increase in freight traffic is of particular concern because of the increased dependency of commerce upon the efficiency of the roadways and the added wear and tear caused by trucks. Without adequate investment and attention, the negative trends will continue, as will the adverse consequences. It is clear that significant improvements and system maintenance will require significant investments.

The National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Commission studied the impact of varying investment levels (medium and high) and produced the following ranges of average annual capital investment needs (in 2006 dollars):

  • $130 billion-$240 billion for the 15 year period 2005-2020;
  • $133 billion-$250 billion for the 30 year period 2005-2035;
  • $146 billion-$276 billion for the 50 year period 2005-2055.

The lower end of the ranges reflect the estimated costs of maintaining key conditions and performance measures at current levels, (the status quo), while the higher end ranges would allow for an aggressive expansion of the highway system, which would provide improved conditions and performance in light of increasing travel demand. 3 Even at the lower range of estimates, an enormous gap exists between the current level of capital investment and the investment needed to improve the nation’s highways and roads.

Top 10 Most Congested Cities in the U.S.

Rank City Hours of Delay per traveler
1 Los Angeles/Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA 72
2 San Francisco-Oakland, CA 60
3 Washington, DC-VA-MD 60
4 Atlanta, GA 60
5 Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 58
6 Houston, TX 56
7 Detroit, MI 54
8 Miami, FL 50
9 Phoenix, AZ 48
10 Chicago, IL-IN 46

SOURCE Urban Mobility Report, Texas Transportation Institute, 2007


Highway Vehicle Miles Traveled: 1995-2005


The Interstate Highway System was constructed as part of the nation’s strategic homeland defense, illustrating the important role of transportation in mitigation, defense and recovery. 

The ability of our transportation system to withstand threats from hazards of all types, both natural and human-caused, and to restore service promptly following such events, is known as resilience. Resilience includes a variety of such interconnected aspects as structural robustness, system redundancy, security posture, emergency response capabilities, recovery measures, business continuity alternatives, long-term mitigation strategies, cross-sector interdependencies, regional impacts, and supply chain disruptions.

Building disaster-resistant roads and highways reduces hazard mitigation costs, limits exposure, and maintains operational continuity. A multihazard approach utilizing next-generation codes, standards, and practices is necessary to minimize the extent of a disaster.


The challenges imposed by our highway infrastructure require a large increase in capital investment on the part of all levels of government and other sources as well. The failure to adequately invest in the nation’s highways and roads will lead to increased congestion and delays for motorists and the further deterioration of pavement conditions and will pose increased safety concerns. An overstressed infrastructure will also slow freight delivery, create unpredictability in supply chains, diminish the competitiveness of U.S. businesses, and increase the cost of consumer goods. There must also be a significant change in the way we manage the system, which should include the use of emerging technologies and innovative operational strategies.

Legislation to replace SAFETEA-LU, which expires on September 30, 2009, must address the following issues if it is to set the stage for the major reforms needed to ensure the viability of our surface transportation system.  First, it must more clearly define the federal role and responsibilities, and from that definition, the framework for a performance-based and fully accountable system can emerge. 

Second, it is clear that the current funding model for the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is failing. In fact, the latest projections by the U.S. Department of Treasury and Congressional Budget Office indicate that by the end of FY 2009, the HTF will have a negative balance of $4-5 billion if no corrective action is taken.  While acknowledging the need to move to a new, sustainable funding system in the long term, the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission has recommended an increase of 5-8 cents per gallon per year over the next 5 years to address the current projected shortfall. 3 Clearly, we cannot continue to rely upon gasoline and diesel taxes to generate the HTF revenues, especially when national policy demands a reduction in both our reliance upon foreign sources of energy and our nation’s carbon footprint. While in the short term an increase in the gas tax is clearly necessary, our national policy must move toward a system that more directly aligns fees that a user is charged with the benefits that the user derives.

Finally, the legislation must encourage innovative thinking and solutions from all sectors: public, private, and academia.


  1. The Road Information Project (TRIP), Key Facts About America's Road and Bridge Conditions and Federal Funding, updated August 2008
  2. U.S. Department of Transportation, Status of the Nation's Highways, Bridges and Transit: Conditions and Performance, 2006.
  3. Report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission -- Transportation for Tomorrow, December 2007. Volume II
  4. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Motor Vehicle Traffic Crash Fatality Counts and Estimates of People Injured for 2007 -- DOT HS 811 034 September 2008, p. 7 .
  5. Texas Transportation Institute, The 2007 Urban Mobility Report. Exhibit 3, p. 3
  6. The Path Forward -- Interim Report of the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission. February 2008, pp.12 and 14