GAO reports on the state of the interstates

| 6/14/2002

A new General Accounting Office (GAO) report on the current state of the Interstate Highway System (IHS) found the physical condition of the system has improved the last decade, but growing capacity needs are not being met. U.S. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), the Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, requested the report.

As of 2000, the IHS extended over 46,000 miles in length and comprised 209,655 lane miles. According to the report, 24 percent of all car and truck travel nationwide occurs on the IHS. While the report notes significant improvements to the structural quality of our interstate highways and bridges, it also says relatively small capacity increases have not matched the demands placed on the system by larger increases in traffic. As a result, congestion and other costs related to capacity shortages continue to grow.

"On a positive note, the new GAO report outlines the improvement of the quality of our roads, but it also clearly shows that congestion remains a serious problem in America, not only for travelers and commuters, but for our overall economy as well," Young said. "This report reaffirms my commitment to addressing the growing congestion problem throughout the entire nation."

Some report highlights: Truck travel on the Interstates accounted for more than 41 percent of total truck miles traveled in 2000. Trucks carry more than 69 percent of the tons shipped in the states and 72 percent of the value of goods shipped in the country. The number of structurally deficient interstate bridges declined by over 22 percent from 1992 through 2000. The percentage of funds the federal government has provided specifically for use on the IHS has declined from more than half of all federal highway aid prior to 1992 to 17.5 percent during the period 1992 through 2001. The overall density of traffic on all major U.S. roads has been increasing over the past decade and traffic density is higher on urban highways than on rural ones. Traffic on rural Interstate highways is increasing at a faster rate than on any other class of roads. Interstate highways account for only four percent of the capacity on urban roads but they carry 24 percent of all metropolitan area traffic.

Since 1992, 1.4 percent of IHS projects were for new construction, 5.6 percent were for road widening, and the remaining 93 percent were for reconstruction, relocation, restoration and rehabilitation, or resurfacing projects. From 1990 to 2000, interstate lane miles increased 6 percent, population increased 13 percent, licensed drivers increased 14 percent, vehicle miles traveled increased 39 percent, and freight by intercity truck ton-miles increased 40 percent.

A 2001 study estimates an annual 6.9 percent increase in Latin American truck traffic in the United States (resulting in almost a doubling in 10 years). Ninety-six percent of this traffic will be on the interstates.