WASHINGTON — The nation’s Interstate highway system, originally funded in 1956, is now 65 years old — and there’s no question that it needs a lot of work.
According to a report released in June by TRIP, the interstate highway system is congested, carries significant levels of travel, particularly by large trucks, and lacks adequate funding to make needed repairs and improvements.
The findings of the report — America’s Interstate Highway System at 65: Meeting America’s Transportation Needs with a Reliable, Safe & Well-Maintained National Highway Network — show that this critical transportation link will need to be rebuilt and expanded to meet the nation’s growing transportation needs, TRIP said in a June 22 news release.
The report looks at the interstate system’s use, condition and benefits, along with the findings of a 2019 report prepared by the Transportation Research Board (TRB), at the request of Congress as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, on the condition and use of the interstate system and actions required to restore and upgrade the Interstate system.
The chart below ranks 20 states whose interstate systems are the most congested, have experienced the greatest increase in vehicle miles of travel (VMT) since 2000, are busiest (based on daily travel per lane mile), have the largest share of pavement in poor condition, and have the greatest share of bridges in poor/structurally deficient condition. Data for all states can be found here.
According to the 2019 TRB report, the interstate system has a persistent and growing backlog of physical and operational deficiencies as a result of age, heavy use and deferred reinvestment, and is in need of major reconstruction and modernization. The TRB report concludes that annual investment in the interstate highway system should be increased approximately two-and-a-half times, from $23 billion in 2018 to $57 billion annually over the next 20 years.
“The report released by TRIP confirms what American businesses experience every day — our interstate highway system, which was once the envy of the world, is in serious need of modernization,” said Ed Mortimer, vice president of transportation infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Commitment to modernization must be shared by federal, state and local leaders as well as the private sector. The interstate system plays a key national role in economic success and quality of life for every American, and we urge bipartisan solutions this year to address this critical issue.”
The TRIP report found that travel on the interstate system from 2000 to 2019 increased by 26%, a rate nearly triple the rate at which new lane capacity was added. As a result, 47% of urban interstate highways are considered to be congested during peak hours. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, vehicle travel on U.S. highways dropped by as much as 45% in April 2020 but rebounded to only 6% below April 2019 levels by April 2021.
The report also found that travel by combination trucks on the interstate increased at a rate more than double that of overall vehicle travel between 2000 and 2019. Combination truck travel on the interstate system increased 43% from 2000 to 2019, while overall vehicle travel increased 19%.
“Our rapidly deteriorating infrastructure is a clear and present danger to our nation’s supply chain,” said Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations. “Breakdowns in the interstate highway system add an annual $75 billion to the cost of freight transportation, and 67 million tons of excess carbon dioxide emissions are released into the atmosphere every year from trucks stuck in traffic congestion. This report quantifies how severe this crisis has become, and it underscores the urgent need for Congress to make real infrastructure investments that are backed by a fair and equitable user-based revenue source.”
The design of the interstate system — which includes a separation from other roads and rail lines, a minimum of four lanes, paved shoulders and median barriers — makes it more than twice as safe to travel on as all other roadways. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles of travel on the interstate in 2019 was 0.55, compared to 1.3 on non-interstate routes. TRIP estimates that additional safety features on the interstate highway system saved 6,555 lives in 2019.
“AAA supports increased federal investment for the Interstate Highway System,” said Jill Ingrassia, AAA’s executive director of advocacy and communications. “Significant funding is needed to ensure safe, efficient and reliable mobility across the United States. AAA urges Congress and the administration to come together to get this important work done.”
TRIP’s report finds that while pavement smoothness on most segments of the interstate system is acceptable, the crumbling foundations of most highway segments need to be reconstructed, and that continued resurfacing — rather than addressing underlying foundational issues — is resulting in diminishing returns and results in shorter periods of pavement smoothness.
As the aging system’s foundations continue to deteriorate, most interstate highways, bridges and interchanges will need to be rebuilt or replaced, according to the TRB report. Statistics from the TRIP report reveal that pavement on 11% of interstate highways are in poor or mediocre condition. Three percent of interstate bridges are rated in poor and structurally deficient condition, and 57% are rated in fair condition.
According to TRB, restoring and upgrading the interstate highway system to meet the nation’s transportation needs will require a significant boost in funding, strong federal leadership and a robust federal-state partnership. The current FAST Act, the primary source of interstate highway funding, was extended by one year by Congress, and now expires Sept. 30, 2021. Reauthorization of a new, adequately and reliably funded long-term federal program is needed to ensure that a strong federal program supports the restoration of the interstate system.
Based on the findings of the TRB Interstate report, TRIP has provided a set of recommendations for the restoration of the interstate highway system, which includes the foundational reconstruction of interstate highways, bridges and interchanges; improvement to roadway safety features; system right-sizing, including upgrading of some roadway corridors to Interstate standards; adding needed additional highway capacity on existing routes; adding additional corridors; and modifying some urban segments to maintain connectivity while remediating economic and social disruption.
“The long-term vision that helped establish the current Interstate Highway System 65 years ago is needed again today,” said Dave Kearby, executive director of TRIP. “A modernized interstate system will be critical to the nation’s ability to fully recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and will require adequate investment in a federal surface transportation program that provides states and local government the funding and flexibility they will need to restore the nation’s most critical transportation link.”
The Trucker News Staff produces engaging content for not only TheTrucker.com, but also The Trucker Newspaper, which has been serving the trucking industry for more than 30 years. With a focus on drivers, the Trucker News Staff aims to provide relevant, objective content pertaining to the trucking segment of the transportation industry. The Trucker News Staff is based in Little Rock, Arkansas.