The Interstate Highway System at 60 years old "faces increasing congestion, unprecedented levels of travel – particularly by large trucks – and insufficient funding to make needed repairs and improvements," the TRIP research group said in a new report.
TRIP called the network of interstates "the nation's most critical transportation link," and said it "continues to save lives with its enhanced safety features and is largely well-preserved."
However, the group warned in a June 27 press release, "an aging interstate system will increasingly require more long-term, costly repairs." June 29 was the 60th anniversary of the law that launched construction of the interstate highways.
"The system is increasingly congested, with truck travel growing at a rate twice that of overall interstate travel," TRIP said. "And, while the nation's interstates tend to be in better condition than other roads and bridges, the aging system lacks the required funding for needed improvements and repairs."
In its opening section the TRIP report said: "If Americans are to continue to enjoy their current level of personal and commercial mobility on Interstate highways and bridges, the nation will need to make a commitment to identifying a long-term funding source to support a well-maintained Interstate Highway System able to meet the nation's need for additional mobility.
The report's conclusions will not be a surprise to industry officials and organizations that support stronger federal, state and local infrastructure investments. But the June 29 60th anniversary of the law that launched the interstate system was an occasion for TRIP to update its analysis of that roadway network. It also comes as some major candidates in the November elections are calling for major new federal investments in transportation systems and other infrastructure.
"The long-term vision that helped establish the current interstate system 60 years ago is needed again today," said Will Wilkins, TRIP's executive director. "In order to maintain personal and commercial mobility, transportation investment and a sustainable, long-term funding source for the federal surface transportation program must remain a priority."
TRIP said 12 percent of interstate lanes are in poor or mediocre condition, while three percent of its bridges are structurally deficient and another 18 percent are functionally obsolete. Although still safe for vehicle travel, TRIP said bridges rated structurally deficient have significant deterioration of the major components of the bridge, while the functionally obsolete structures no longer meet modern design standards, often because of narrow lanes, inadequate clearances or poor alignment.
Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said in the TRIP announcement that "the United States moves in large part thanks to the efforts of many elected officials, organizations and citizens whose shared foresight led to the construction of the national interstate system. Now, as we commemorate the 60th anniversary of the interstate act, it's clear that our investments in preserving the system are not keeping up even as our nation continues to grow."
TRIP also described the growth in system usage. "Since 2000 travel on the interstate system is increasing two times faster than new lane capacity is being added. As a result, 43 percent of urban interstate highways are considered congested during peak hours . . . Travel by combination trucks on the interstate increased by 29 percent from 2000 to 2014, more than double the 14 percent rate of growth for all interstate vehicle travel during the same period."
Ed Mortimer, executive director for transportation infrastructure at the United States Chamber of Commerce, said the 1950s vision of President Eisenhower to develop interstate highways "enabled economic mobility throughout our nation and showed we can accomplish big things." Now, Mortimer said, "as we work to maintain and in many cases rebuild this great system, let's continue to think big as we work to fund and finance an improved, smarter network."