AASHTO Journal

Drivers Reach New Peaks in U.S. Traffic Volume in June, First-half 2017

U.S. roadway travel increased by 1.2 percent in June from the same month in 2016, the Federal Highway Administration said, extending a streak of record increases in vehicle miles traveled that illustrate the growing physical demand on the nation's road and bridge networks.

The FHWA in its latest "Traffic Volume Trends" report of preliminary monthly data also said that cumulative travel on both urban and rural roads for the first six months of 2017 increased 1.6 percent, after another record-high volume in 2016.

Just for June, the FHWA said motorists added 3.4 billion more miles than a year earlier; for first-half 2017 the increase reached 24.6 billion.

capitol0816.jpgThe numbers show that drivers through the increased travel volume are adding ever more wear and tear on pavement, bridges and other parts of the road system infrastructure, and help show why congestion levels continue to rise around the country.

"The increase in driving over the first half of the year highlights the growing demands challenging the nation's roads," the FHWA said in announcing the new numbers, "and reaffirms the importance of improving the nation's infrastructure investments and streamlining the environmental and permitting processes."

They come as many states are raising their own motor fuel excise taxes, vehicle fees and other forms of revenue to pay the growing costs of maintaining the surface transportation infrastructure and to invest in new projects to improve mobility and roadway safety.

However, at the federal level investment plans remain uncertain.

Congress through a five-year law in 2015 provided only modest annual increases in federal highway and transit investment levels. The scheduled 2017 increases, which were due to kick in last Oct. 1, did not take effect until after Congress voted for a full-year appropriations bill this  past spring, and lawmakers have said they expect to face another delay next month in finalizing a fiscal 2018 budget measure by October.

In addition, major federal transportation grant programs have been delayed, partly due to the appropriations delay and partly as the new Trump administration slowly fills key positions and sets the programs in motion.

President Trump continues to say he wants Congress to pass a major program to increase federal investment in transportation facilities and other types of infrastructure, but so far his administration has only offered general guidelines of what it will propose.

And the outline it has offered relies heavily on state, local and private investment to bear the brunt of new project spending, as the administration says it wants to invest $200 billion over 10 years of direct federal funds to leverage an additional $800 billion in nonfederal investment.

Meanwhile, the new FHWA data shows that traffic volume increased in every U.S. region in June, capped by a 2.2 percent rise in the West. Vehicle miles rose 1.3 percent in both the South Atlantic and South Gulf regions, 0.8 percent in the Northeast and 0.5 percent among North Central states.

In all, drivers traveled 87.4 billion miles on rural roads in June and 193.6 billion on urban highways and streets, for a total of 280.9 billion vehicle miles.

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

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