UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Introduction: Summary in Brief
In the race to build world-class transportation, America once set the pace. We used to have a big lead.
In the 19th century, we built the Erie Canal and Transcontinental Railroad. In the last century, we took over building the Panama Canal, completed the Interstate Highway System, and set the world standard in freight transport and aviation.
But our lead has slipped away. We are behind. Way behind.
The quality of our roads, for example, is no longer rated No. 1.
We’re No. 16.
And it is not just that our infrastructure is showing its age—our country, in many ways, has outgrown it. If you drive a car, you now spend, on average, the equivalent of five vacation days every year sitting in traffic. If you drive a truck, highway congestion has made you an expert at navigating bumpy side roads—and you are not alone. Every year, trucks are losing $27 billion on wasted time and fuel.
In this report, we not only analyzed the condition and performance of our transportation system today, but forecasted how it will look and perform 30 years from now if we fail to develop a new game plan.
Beyond Traffic reveals that, if we don’t change, in 2045, the transportation system that powered our rise as a nation will instead slow us down. Transit systems will be so backed up that riders will wonder not just when they will get to work, but if they will get there at all. At the airports, and on the highway, every day will be like Thanksgiving is today.
This is not a picture of our inevitable future. It is the objective truth—and one we hope inspires Americans to, in a way, launch a comeback. We encourage our readers to learn about the challenges ahead, and to think of them as opportunities. The potential is there, Beyond Traffic tells us, to make a transportation system as amazing, frankly, as the stark scenario above is troubling—a system that is safer, more efficient, more sustainable, and more satisfying—one that successfully connects all Americans to the 21st century economy.
Beyond Traffic doesn’t prescribe a course of action or advocate for any specific solution. It doesn’t provide a blueprint.
Our purpose in producing this report was to analyze the latest data and trends shaping transportation so we could objectively frame critical policy choices that need to be made. Trends and choices such as:
How will we move? How will we build a transportation system to accommodate a growing population and changing travel patterns?
- America’s population will grow by 70 million by 2045.
- By 2050, emerging megaregions could absorb 75 percent of the U.S. population; rural populations are expected to continue declining.
- Population growth will be greatest in the South and West; existing infrastructure might not be able to accommodate it.
- It is possible that Americans, particularly millennials, will continue reducing trips by car in favor of more trips by transit and intercity passenger rail.
- In 2045 there will be nearly twice as many older Americans—thus, more people needing quality transit connections to medical and other services.
How will we move things? And reduce freight chokepoints that drive up the cost of owning a business?
- By 2045, freight volume will increase 45 percent.
- Online shopping is driving up demand for small package home delivery, which could soon substitute for many household shopping trips.
- Airline mergers and the consolidation of hubs may result in increased air traffic congestion.
- International trade balances, due in part to low U.S. energy costs, could shift from imports toward exports, but overall globalization will increase both, straining ports and border crossings.
- Strong domestic energy production may enable the U.S. to become a natural gas net exporter by 2020, but pipeline capacity may hamper growth and lead to greater movement of oil by rail.
How will we move better? And knock down barriers to new technologies that promise to make travel safer and more convenient?
- Technological changes and innovation may transform vehicles, infrastructure, logistics, and the delivery of transportation services to promote efficiency and safety.
- New sources of travel data have the potential to improve travelers’ experience, support more efficient management of transportation systems, and enhance investment decisions.
- Automation and robotics will affect all modes of transportation, improving infrastructure maintenance and travel safety, and enabling the mainstream use of autonomous vehicles.
How will we adapt? And make our infrastructure more resilient to events like Hurricane Sandy?
- The effects of climate change will include global mean sea level rise, temperature increases, and more frequent and intense storm events, all of which will impact highways, bridges, public transportation, coastal ports and waterways.
How will we align decisions and dollars, and invest the trillions of dollars our transportation system needs in the smartest way possible?
- Public revenues to support transportation are not keeping up with the rising costs of maintenance and capacity expansion.
- Sixty-five percent of our roads are rated in less than good condition; a quarter of our bridges need significant repair; 45 percent of Americans lack access to transit.
- The federal gas tax is no longer enough to address our transportation needs.
- Overall financing uncertainty, shortfalls in the Highway Trust Fund, and the absence of reliable federal funding for rail, marine highways, and ports have created a need for new financing mechanisms.
Beyond Traffic does not close the book on these questions. It opens the book wider, giving all of us more and better data with which to answer them.
Our hope is, at the end of the day, Beyond Traffic provides Americans with a common basis of fact for a larger national discussion about the future of transportation.
It’s a discussion we need to have. After all, since Lewis and Clark blazed a trail to the Pacific and Lincoln linked our country with a railroad, transportation has been a national effort. No matter what changes in the next 30 years, it will continue to be one.
About the United States Department of Transportation
The mission of the Department is to serve the United States by ensuring a fast, safe, efficient, accessible and convenient transportation system that meets our vital national interests and enhances the quality of life of the American people, today and into the future.