The American highway network: aging, overloaded and in need of repair
The US interstate highway system, launched over 60 years ago, now carries far more vehicles than was originally built and is in urgent need of repairs and improvements.
The United States has âtaken a generation awayâ from investing in infrastructure, says Brian Pallasch, director of government relations at the American Society of Civil Engineers. And with Americans driving more than ever, it comes with problems like frustrating traffic jams and expensive car repair bills.
âThe roads we take every day have a huge impact on our vehicles,â said Pallasch. Here Now. “The average driver … faces about $ 600 worth of vehicle repairs and maintenance in any given year just because of the damaging road network.”
Construction projects to improve or expand interstate highways are underway across the country. Among them, a more than $ 2 billion effort to rebuild 21 miles of Florida’s Interstate 4, including a section that runs through downtown Orlando, one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the USA.
“We have wasted a generation investing in our infrastructure, and I think our interstate highway system proves it.”
The project, dubbed I-4 Ultimate, exposes one of many hurdles when it comes to remedying the condition of interstate highways: other infrastructure has continuously developed around them over the decades, and hundreds of thousands of people now rely on interstate daily. This makes the construction complex, to say the least.
âThere are sewer lines, water lines, storm sewers and electrical wires, fiber optic cables, that often run through or through the right-of-way of these road systems. And so a lot of utilities need to be overhauled or relocated, “Pallasch says.” While, [you’re] trying to ensure that the traveling public has access to the system. “
While projects like I-4 Ultimate are a positive step, traffic congestion is not an issue America can get out of, Pallasch says. He points to Los Angeles as a model of how a car-centric culture can take steps to address the problem in other ways.
âThey are investing very heavily not only in rebuilding some of their road networks, but they are investing heavily in public transport and they are actually trying to provide people with [with] additional options for mobility, âsays Pallasch. âWe need to start rethinking how we’re going to get from point A to point B.
Working from home offers another opportunity to reduce the number of cars on the road and the resulting pressure on the highways, Pallasch says.
There is also the question of where the funding will come from for these large-scale interstate reviews. Congressional lawmakers have been reluctant to increase the federal gasoline tax – it has remained the same since 1993 – which generates revenue that goes into the U.S. highways trust fund. The federal government uses the fund to finance highway and transit projects.
The American Society of Civil Engineers supports increasing this tax, which currently stands at 18.4 cents per gallon of gasoline and 23.4 cents per gallon of diesel. Beyond the gasoline tax, Pallasch says, is an even more controversial option: making drivers pay per kilometer driven.
âSome people have thought about this notion. But the reality is that it’s a fair way to do it,â he says, adding that increasing tolls is also on the list of options to consider for generating income in the city. devote to infrastructure. “We’re seeing more EVs and hybrids being used, and they’re actually not paying into the system at all.”
Pallasch says highway problems will continue to plague drivers if highway renovations fall on the priority list.
âThere’s a toll on what we do, if you will, by not maintaining our road networks,â he says.
Julia Corcoran produced this interview and edited it for airing with Todd Mundt. Jack Mitchell adapted it for the web.