The Federal Highway Administration said preliminary data from states on highway use indicate U.S. drivers racked up nearly 3.02 trillion vehicle miles traveled in 2014, the highest level since 2007 and second-highest since data collection began 79 years ago.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx used the report to renew his call for Congress to increase infrastructure investment.
The FHWA also said the new data support projections Foxx made when the USDOT recently released its "Beyond Traffic" report on likely travel trends for the next 30 year, which pointed toward increasing gridlock unless the country soon changes the way it approaches transportation spending.
"Americans are driving their cars at near-record levels, and being stuck in traffic is costing drivers an average of nearly five days a year,” said Foxx. "To ensure this problem doesn’t get worse, greater innovations and investments are needed. We can’t keep treating America’s 21st Century traffic needs with 20th Century solutions.”
The FHWA drew its 2014 estimate from a monthly "Traffic Volume Trends" report that takes figures from state highway agencies. The data is collected at about 4,000 continuous traffic-counting locations, which are in place to help traffic planners compare volume from the same month of the previous year.
The FHWA cautions that this provides "limited sample sizes," and says the separate highway Performance Monitoring System provides more accurate information on a yearly basis, but the rising level of vehicle miles traveled as the economy grows is in line with other reports seen for 2012 and 2013.
"Data like these are critical to helping federal and state transportation leaders understand the challenges facing American drivers," said FHWA Deputy Administrator Greg Nadeau. "The nation's growing demand on roads and bridges underscores what we have been saying – increased investment is needed if we are to keep our roads from becoming parking lots."
The return to growth in vehicle miles traveled, after a temporary decline that began in the 2008-09 recession, is also a factor cited on Capitol Hill this week as Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, discussed the recent "Bottom Line Report" issued along with the American Public Transportation Association.
"One thing that has been widely reported, which isn't true, is that VMT as a whole is declining," Wright told the group. Despite a decline in per capita vehicle miles, he said, overall "VMT is actually rising in this country." He said the Bottom Line Report projects a likely average annual growth rate of 1 percent or greater.
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