AASHTO Journal

FHWA: Traffic Crowded U.S. Roads at Record Annual Level in 2017

Motor vehicle traffic on U.S. roads and highways hit an all-time high in 2017 of more than 3.208 trillion vehicle miles traveled, the Federal Highway Administration said.

In its latest monthly "Traffic Volume Trends" report, which uses preliminary reports from state highway agencies, the FHWA said traffic volume increased in all of 2017 by 1.2 percent or 39.3 billion vehicle miles.

traffic6-cal.jpgThat made 2017 the third straight year that traffic hit new record highs, according to an FHWA table. And 2017 was the first year in which volume topped 3.2 trillion vehicle miles.

The traffic growth increases congestion on the nation's road system, and adds to wear on road and bridge pavement and supporting infrastructure. It also underscores the need across the country to invest in maintaining existing roads along with new projects to try to keep pace with rising user levels.

The FHWA report comes as Congress begins to consider proposals to increase investment in transportation systems and other vital infrastructure, and after President Trump offered a plan to increase federal project spending by $200 billion over 10 years in hopes of leveraging another $1.3 trillion in state, local and private spending.

Meanwhile, Congress is also negotiating a full-year appropriations bill for the rest of fiscal 2018 that began Oct. 1, and under a recent budget accord lawmakers have agreed to add $10 billion in new infrastructure funds in 2018 and again in 2019.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials has urged appropriators to route such added funds through formula-based highway and transit programs.

AASHTO said that would let state and local officials put the money into projects they most need, rather than using grant programs than have federal officials decide which projects to support and then award the money only after a delay.

In a Feb. 16 letter to lawmakers, AASHTO said using the formula programs could let state departments of transportation and other agencies put the added funds to use in their spring construction projects.

But it said putting the new money into grant programs would add uncertainty about when and how the money would be distributed. AASHTO noted that the USDOT "is currently reviewing hundreds of applications" to award $2 billion in 2017 and 2018 project grant funds.

"Further increases in federal funding for discretionary programs will add to this backlog and run the risk of not being effectively utilized by state and local governments this construction season," AASHTO said. "The only way to ensure these dollars are dedicated to projects in the 2018 construction season is to distribute the funding through formula programs."

Part of that amount is $500 million in 2017 TIGER grants that can help fund a wide range of infrastructure projects, while the rest is the INFRA grants for 2017 and 2018 that are to have a heavy focus on projects to improve major freight corridors.

USDOT Secretary Elaine Chao told state officials Feb. 28 that the department will issue the TIGER awards "very soon," with the INFRA grants to soon follow.

Questions regarding this article may be directed to editor@aashtojournal.org.

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