America’s roads are often crowded, frequently in poor condition, chronically underfunded, and are becoming more dangerous. More than two out of every five miles of America’s urban interstates are congested and traffic delays cost the country $160 billion in wasted time and fuel in 2014. One out of every five miles of highway pavement is in poor condition and our roads have a significant and increasing backlog of rehabilitation needs. After years of decline, traffic fatalities increased by 7% from 2014 to 2015, with 35,092 people dying on America’s roads.
With over four million miles of roads crisscrossing the United States, from 15 lane interstates to residential streets, roads are among the most visible and familiar forms of infrastructure. In 2016 alone, U.S. roads carried people and goods over three trillion miles—or more than 300 round trips between Earth and Pluto. After a slight dip during the 2008 recession, Americans are driving more and vehicle miles travelled is at its second highest-ever level, second only to 2007.
The U.S. has been underfunding its highway system for years, resulting in a $836 billion backlog of highway and bridge capital needs. The bulk of the backlog ($420 billion) is in repairing existing highways, while $123 billion is needed for bridge repair, $167 billion for system expansion, and $126 for system enhancement (which includes safety enhancements, operational improvements, and environmental projects). The Federal Highway Administration estimates that each dollar spent on road, highway, and bridge improvements returns $5.20 in the form of lower vehicle maintenance costs, decreased delays, reduced fuel consumption, improved safety, lower road and bridge maintenance costs, and reduced emissions as a result of improved traffic flow.
35,092 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2015. Traffic fatalities decreased significantly over the last decade, but abruptly increased by 7% from 2014 to 2015 and preliminary data shows fatalities rose 8% in the first nine months of 2016. 9.5% more pedestrians and 12.2% more bicyclists were killed by crashes in 2015 than 2014, emphasizing the importance of designing streets for the safety of all users.
New road design, construction, maintenance, and management technologies and techniques are constantly being developed. The Federal Highway Administration’s Every Day Counts program has played an important role in collecting and evaluating new ideas and promoting the deployment of proven, market-ready strategies. These innovations have included the use of 3D engineered models for more accurate and efficient planning and construction; new methods to determine when, where and how to best preserve pavement; and tools to make permitting reviews faster and more efficient. New materials and technology are also helping roads become more sustainable and resilient, such as greater use of permeable paving materials to reduce storm runoff, as well as the use of recycled materials in pavement.
Raising the Grades
Solutions that Work Now
Increase funding from all levels of government and the private sector to tackle the massive backlog of highway needs.
Fix the federal Highway Trust Fund by raising the federal motor fuels tax. To ensure long-term, sustainable funding for the federal surface transportation program, the current user fee of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon on diesel should be raised and tied to inflation to restore its purchasing power, fill the funding deficit, and ensure reliable funding for the future.
Tackle congestion through policies and technologies that maximize the capacity of the existing road network and create an integrated, multimodal transportation system.
Prioritize maintenance and the state of good repair to maximize the lifespan of roads.
State and local governments should ensure their funding mechanisms (motor fuel taxes or other) are sufficient to fund their needed investment.
All levels of government need to think long-term about how to fund their roads and consider potential alternatives to the motor fuel taxes, including further study and piloting of mileage-based user fees.
Increase investment and expand the federal Highway Safety Improvement Program to find new ways and further propagate existing methods to make roads safe for all users.