WASHINGTON — Traffic on U.S. roads and highways began 2018 the way it's been going for several years now, moving into ever-higher record territory as more vehicles compete for space in travel lanes and put more wear on the road system's infrastructure.
The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) said in its latest “Traffic Volume Trends” monthly report that travel on all roads and streets grew by 0.4 percent in January, or 900 million vehicle miles, compared with January 2017, according to a report in the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) Journal.
The agency estimated traffic volume for January at 245.5 billion vehicle miles.
That followed a 1.2 percent rise in traffic volume for all of 2017, which made it the third straight year in which traffic set new all-time highs.
All of this comes as Congress weighs calls for more infrastructure investment to keep pace with rising demand for mobility projects to repair worn roads and bridges, reduce congestion and improve safety.
Stakeholder groups including AASHTO are also urging lawmakers to act soon to provide sustainable long-term revenue to the Highway Trust Fund, which is on course to run out of enough money after 2020 and even in that year would see a prescheduled rescission claw back billions of dollars in highway program funds.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, took up that call herself during an April 11 hearing of the Appropriations subcommittee she chairs which has oversight of transportation programs.
Collins said she was concerned that the Trump administration “has not offered up its own solution to the insolvency of the Highway Trust Fund” but was instead “advocating a new set of grant programs” through its infrastructure investment proposal.
“Without a fix to the Highway Trust Fund, my concern is that the administration's infrastructure proposal would simply lead to the abdication of the federal role in transportation and lead to devolution to the states,” Collins said.
The mild January increase in traffic came despite that nearly half the states reported volume declines for the month amid harsh weather in much of the eastern United States and parts of the Midwest.
In contrast, out West many states reported solid January gains, and two — New Mexico and Idaho — had double-digit increases.
Meanwhile, news agencies report a boom under way in commercial truck sales is putting more heavy equipment on the nation’s roads to haul surging freight traffic.
That is prompting state departments of transportation to target more project funding on major freight corridors, and the Virginia DOT recently curbed trucks' access to a shortcut to an inland port because they were using a local road not designed for that traffic.