Report: Reinvigoration of Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 Needed to Fix Interstates

By on December 7, 2018

From For Construction Pros:  The future of the U.S. Interstate Highway System is threatened by a persistent and growing backlog of structural and operational deficiencies and by various looming challenges, such as the progress of automated vehicles, developments in electric vehicles, and vulnerabilities due to climate change. Unless a commitment is made to remedy the system’s deficiencies and prepare for these oncoming challenges, there is a real risk that the nation’s interstates will become increasingly unreliable and congested, far more costly to maintain, less safe, incompatible with evolving technology, and vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather, says a new congressionally mandated report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The report calls for a 20-year “blueprint for action,” which includes creating an “Interstate Highway System Renewal and Modernization Program,” increasing the federal fuel tax to help pay for it, and allowing tolls and per-mile-charges on more interstate routes.

“The interstates have long been the backbone of our country’s transportation system, but most of them have exceeded their design lives and in many places are worn and overused,” said Norman Augustine, former chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp. and chair of the committee that wrote the report. “These aging interstates are highly congested oftentimes and in need of reconstruction. Furthermore, technological advances are offering new opportunities, but they may also undermine a principal source of income for the interstates, namely the tax on fuel.  We recommend a course of action that is aggressive and ambitious, but by no means novel. Essentially, we need a reinvigoration of the federal and state partnership that produced the Interstate Highway System in the first place.” 

The Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways was authorized in 1956 and designed to provide safe and efficient transportation across states. The highways serve as both urban commuter and inter-urban travel corridors, integrate the country’s freight system by connecting to major ports and rail hubs, and are critical to the logistics of national defense. Constituting about 1 percent of public road mileage, the interstates carry about one-fourth of the nation’s vehicle miles traveled, including about one-half of the miles traveled by heavy trucks.  Moreover, per vehicle mile traveled, interstate highways are the safest roads in the country. Because of their heavy use, however, they still account for more than 5,000 traffic deaths per year. Nevertheless, today they suffer from severe congestion, mainly in urban areas, and in many cases are in need of costly reconstruction.

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