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7 A Blueprint for Action In its call for the study reported herein, Congress specified outputs that could be used to inform its pending and future investment decisions and other policy choices concerning the future of the Interstate Highway Sys- tem. Specifically, Congress asked for information regarding actions that will be needed to upgrade and restore the system to meet the growing and shifting demands of the 21st century. Informed by consultations with high- way users, transportation planners and administrators, and other experts and interested parties and by the application of models and other means for estimating improvements to the system and their cost, the committee formed to conduct the study was asked to make recommendations on the âfeatures, standards, capacity needs, application of technologies, and inter- governmental roles to upgrade the Interstate Systemâ and to advise on any changes in law and resources required to further the recommended actions. The preceding chapters have described the approach the study commit- tee employed in pursuing its work; explained the choices made in framing the study and focusing on certain issues; and documented the study analyses and findings, including the results of an investment needs analysis and its implications. The findings presented indicate that the study request was timely, as the Interstate Highway Systemâs physical condition and operating performance continue to exhibit deficiencies, and much of the Interstate System is already past due for major reconstruction and modernization as a result of heavy use and the effects of age, exacerbated by escalating use and deferred reinvestment. These deficiencies, moreover, raise serious questions about the systemâs ability to accommodate the future demands of users, including their eventual ability to capitalize on potentially transformative 199
200 NATIONAL COMMITMENT TO THE INTERSTATE HIGHWAY SYSTEM vehicle technologies, as well as its fundamental resilience in the face of climate change, and the time available to prepare the system to meet the latter challenges is dwindling. Many segments of the Interstate Highway System are more than 50 years old, subject to much heavier traffic volumes and loadings than an- ticipated, and operating well beyond their design lives without having un- dergone major upgrades or reconstruction. These aging and intensely used segments, whose numbers are expected to grow over the next 20 years, are poorly positioned to accommodate even modest projections of future traffic growth, much less the levels of growth actually experienced over the past 50 years. As the country moves deeper into the century and transfor- mations in the vehicle fleet and vulnerabilities due to climate change place new demands on the countryâs transportation infrastructure, the prospect of an aging and worn system that operates unreliably is concerning. The Interstate System, in short, is too important to the nationâs economy and the daily lives of Americans to be allowed to fail in its purpose. The first section of this chapter summarizes findings presented in earlier chapters about looming challenges that confront decision makers as they contemplate the future of the Interstate Highway System. The magnitude of the estimated investments needed over the next two decades to prepare for and meet these challenges would require a major federal and state com- mitment. That commitment, in the committeeâs view, must be federally led, state implemented, and suitably funded as part of an ambitious and sus- tained national campaign of system renewal and modernization. Charged with making recommendations on needed changes in policy and resources relative to the Interstate Highway System, the committee offers a blueprint for the necessary reinvestment programâone that is aggressive; commences soon; and spans the two decades needed to accomplish its crucial goals, as well as to begin laying the groundwork for succeeding decades. LOOMING CHALLENGES Over the years, the Interstate Highway System has conferred enormous benefits on the nation. It provides vital connections and services comple- mentary to the nationâs other passenger and freight networks and their nodes, including railroads, marine ports, airports, public transit, and local road systems. Not only has it connected and integrated a transcontinental country, as envisioned by its founders, but it also has been instrumental in shaping and supporting the nationâs demographic, economic, spatial, and social development for more than 50 years. Because of its far-reaching demographic, economic, and social importance and its vital role in support- ing the national defense, it is critical that the Interstate Highway System be brought to and kept in a state that will allow it to accommodate the
A BLUEPRINT FOR ACTION 201 nationâs changing demographic, economic, climate, and technological land- scape. Unless a commitment is made to remedying the deficiencies and pre- paring for the challenges detailed in this report, there is a very real risk that the system will become increasingly congested; far more costly to operate, maintain, and repair; less safe; incompatible with evolving technology; and vulnerable to the effects of a changing climate and extreme weather. If al- lowed to persist and grow, these deficiencies risk repercussions across all the passenger and freight modes the system connects with and complements. The following major challenges must be confronted: â¢ Commencing the enormous task of rebuilding the systemâs pave- ments, bridges, and other assets and their foundations before they become unserviceable and less safe. Many of the Interstate pavements built in the 1950s and 1960s were designed for 20-year service lives, but have now been in use more than 50 years without reconstruction of their foundationsâthis despite much higher traf- fic loadings than initially projected. Even assuming that a pavement structure can last 50 years before requiring full reconstruction, the systemâs oldest segments are long overdue for this work, and even the majority of the newest Interstate segments, constructed in the 1980s and 1990s, will need to be rebuilt over the next 20 years. As this work is being accomplished, states will also require the increased resources needed to maintain the integrity of their aging Interstate bridges. â¢ Meeting the growing demand for investments in physical capacity, especially on the urban portions of the system, and for more active and innovative management of this capacity in large metropolitan areas that continue to experience most of the countryâs population and economic growth. Large portions of the Interstate System, especially in metropolitan areas, are already congested and have difficulty accommodating the demands of local, interregional, and longer-distance travelers. Urban freeway congestion is a complex issue. Alleviating the problem through physical means, such as lane additions, is an expensive and sometimes impracticable option when system right-of-way is constrained by limited land avail- ability. Even if land can be acquired or existing right-of-way can be used more intensively, urban areas are expensive construction environments, and proposals for capacity expansion are often met with opposition because of environmental and community impacts. In short, physical expansion opportunities are very limited and increasingly unpopular as means of solving the problem of urban congestion. More effective system management, including pricing strategies and investments in other modes, will be needed.
202 NATIONAL COMMITMENT TO THE INTERSTATE HIGHWAY SYSTEM â¢ Ensuring that the system remains responsive to, and aligned with, continued changes in the geography and composition of the coun- tryâs population and economy, and that its connections with the other modes of local, interregional, and long-distance passenger and freight transportation are maintained and strengthened. Al- though thousands of miles of high-quality highways other than Interstates connect many of the countryâs population centers, lack of access to the Interstate System may be viewed by some smaller communities and emerging cities as detrimental to their growth and development, particularly given that the Interstate System includes the countryâs main trucking corridors and connects to many of the countryâs largest ports and rail hubs. The Interstate System was planned in the 1950s and considered complete in the 1990s, despite a changing economy and pattern of demand that is increasingly urban, western, and southern. â¢ Continually improving the systemâs safety as traffic volumes in- crease, new highway and vehicle technologies are introduced, and the system is modified to increase capacity and throughput. Although the Interstates are the nationâs safest highways, they account for more than 5,000 traffic deaths annually. It will be important for the Interstates of the future to continue to adopt state-of-the-art safety practices that mitigate the additional risks arising from growth in traffic volume, and to ensure that efforts to increase traffic flow are accompanied by measures that counter adverse safety effects. â¢ Ensuring that the system is robust and adaptable to changing vehicle technologies, and avoiding premature investments in as- sets and the introduction of standards that would hinder or even foreclose useful development pathways. Many new technologies being developed, and in some cases introduced, have the potential to alter the operation and safety performance of the highway sys- tem, including the Interstates. Many of these technologies, such as driving assist features and automated vehicles, are vehicle-centered, while others, such as real-time traffic analysis systems that inform traffic control devices, have a strong infrastructure orientation. Other technologies will involve the connectivity of vehicles and infrastructure. The potential implications of the development and deployment of connected and automated vehicle technology for the future of the Interstate Highway System is a complex topic, involv- ing many potential technologies, systems, and capabilities. â¢ Adopting funding mechanisms that are equitable and efficient, do not unduly impose the burden of payment on future generations or on less financially equipped groups, and do not disadvantage or
A BLUEPRINT FOR ACTION 203 divert resources from other highways and modes of passenger and freight transportation. The Interstate highway program has long been funded by user fees that have both efficiency and equity mer- its. However, user fee receipts have been stagnant, failing to keep pace with inflation and growth in motor vehicle travel in recent years. Part of the reason for this circumstance is that the federal fuel tax has not been increased in one-quarter of a century. Increas- ing vehicle fuel efficiency and the growing use of electric vehicles risk further revenue declines. Without new funding mechanisms, the longstanding federal contribution to the Interstate System may wane. â¢ Developing and implementing strategies for incorporating future climate conditions into infrastructure and operations planning, starting with the development of robust design and construction standards that accommodate greater frequency and severity of extreme weather events. When much of the Interstate System was being planned, designed, and built during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, there was no recognition of the threat of the buildup green- house gases and of how a changing climate could adversely affect the transportation system and other critical infrastructure through such consequences as rising sea levels and extreme weather events. It is now certain, however, that transportation agencies across the country will need to make changes in the planning, design, con- struction, operation, and maintenance of their highways to account for these impacts. AN INVESTMENT IMPERATIVE The ability of states, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), and the federal government to collaborate and make informed choices about how much, when, and where investments in the Interstate Highway System should be made, as well as to monitor and evaluate system conditions and performance, is currently hindered by a paucity of data and decision- making tools. These inadequacies, particularly as they pertain to the systemâs structural condition and network-level functionality, impeded the committeeâs efforts to assess the physical state and operational performance of the system, much less to consider how its condition and performance are likely to change over the next several decades. Even in the face of this lack of data and decision-making tools, however, the inadequacies of the nationâs prevailing reinvestment in the system are glaring. Most of the Interstate Highway System has far exceeded its design life or will do so over the next 20 years. Only limited planning and budgetary preparations have been made to fix the deterioration that has already been
204 NATIONAL COMMITMENT TO THE INTERSTATE HIGHWAY SYSTEM incurred and to prevent the physical and operational deficiencies that will ensue. Recent combined state and federal capital spending on the Interstates has been on the order of $20â$25 billion annually (see Table 7-1). The information gathering, modeling, and case studies that informed this study indicate that this level of spending is too lowâby at least 50 percentâjust to proceed with the long-deferred rebuilding of the systemâs aging and dete- riorating pavements and bridges. The committee estimates that investments averaging more than $30 billion per year will be needed over the next 20 years to repair and reconstruct these assets from damage already done and that is forthcoming from the effects of age and further use (see Table 7-1). Along with these substantial investments in pavement and bridge repair and reconstruction, additional investments will be required to expand and manage the Interstate Highway Systemâs capacity to handle future traffic. While the need for pavement and bridge upgrades can be estimated with a fair amount of confidence because of the predictable physical effects of age and wear, the investments that will be required to accommodate traffic demand are much more difficult to project. Capacity investments will likely be required, but their size, location, and timing will depend on a host of factors related to changes in the population and economy, how travelers respond to congestion and the supply of new capacity, and the availability of options other than Interstate travel. Transportation agencies, especially in urban areas, may substitute more active operations and demand manage- ment measures, such as congestion tolling, for spending on lane widening TABLE 7-1 Estimated Spending Needs for Interstate Highway Renewal and Modernization Over the Next 20 Years Average Annual Investment ($ billions) Annual Growth in Vehicle-Miles Traveled (VMT) 2014 State and Federal Investment ($ billions) Modest Nominal High 0.75% 1.5% 2% Resurfacing, partial and full reconstruction $16 $27 $29 $32 Bridge rehabilitation and replacement $4 $4 $4 $4 Capacity increase $1 $13 $22 $31 Operations $0.4 $2 $2 $2 TOTAL $21.4 $46 $57 $69 NOTES: All dollar figures are converted 2016 values. The most recent complete data on interstate highways spending is for 2014. See Chapter 5 for details on computation methods.
A BLUEPRINT FOR ACTION 205 and other physical additions to Interstate highways. Although connected and automated vehicles are likely to have limited effects on travel demand in the nearer term, expectations about their longer-term impact may influ- ence transportation agency decisions about whether and where to invest in Interstate capacity, especially in 10 to 15 years. The results of modeling and other analytic tools offer little insight into Interstate highway capacity needs 50 years out but are also questionable for a 20-year period because of the many uncertainties and interdependencies noted above. By stretching the limited modeling capabilities that do exist and using a range of historically informed rates of growth in future Inter- state travel, the committee could, at best, make rough approximations of the magnitude of spending that will be needed for physical and operational capacity improvements over the next 20 years. The models calculate that if travel on the system is assumed to grow at a modest pace comparable to the forecast U.S. population (0.75 percent growth annually), transporta- tion agencies will need to invest an average of $15 billion per year for such improvements. These investments would need to be considerably larger, by about 50 to 100 percent, if travel on the system is assumed to grow at a pace closer to recent historical averages (see Table 7-1). Thus, an approximation of the total state and federal spending that will be needed to renew and modernize the Interstates over the next 20 years averages $45â$70 billion per year. The figures in this range are two to three times higher than current spending levels, and even 50 percent higher when only considering the outlays that will be required for the pavement and bridge upgrades that can be projected with higher confidence. However, even these estimated investment levels may be inadequate. This estimated annual investment omits the spending that will be re- quired in four areas that cannot be estimated at this time but are certain to require billions, and perhaps many billions, in additional spending. The following are examples of these investments: â¢ Reconfiguring and reconstructing many of the systemâs roughly 15,000 interchanges. The current condition of Interstate inter- changes is not recorded in the national database on Interstate as- sets, and their improvement needs cannot be assessed using existing modeling tools. â¢ Making the system more resilient to the effects of climate change. These costs are likely to be highly dependent on local context and have not yet been adequately investigated. â¢ Expanding and allocating system capacity more efficiently in and around metropolitan areas. While the committee was able to derive estimates of the spending that would be required to pursue some congestion mitigation options, such as adding new general-purpose
206 NATIONAL COMMITMENT TO THE INTERSTATE HIGHWAY SYSTEM and managed lanes, many urban Interstate segments will require the use of a wider array of technological, operational, and other demand-management approachesâsuch as intermodal connectivity strategies, area-wide congestion pricing, and the building of new transportation facilitiesâto accommodate future growth in travel demand. The investment required to pursue all of these congestion- management approaches could not be estimated. â¢ âRightsizingâ the length or scope of the system through exten- sions and replacements of some controversial urban segments that do not serve through-traffic. Estimation of the cost of such investments is plagued by uncertainty regarding how future de- mographic, economic, and technological developments will affect specific locations of growth in population and commerce; the lack of compelling criteria for justifying federal investment in such seg- ments; and variation in the choices communities will make regard- ing the intrusiveness and environmental consequences of potential system modifications. The scale and scope of the Interstate reinvestment imperative is daunt- ing, but even more so in an environment in which the revenues needed to pay for the needed investments are flat or falling, as is the case for funds derived from system users. In the committeeâs view, that situation must change. Having motorists pay for the highway system they use not only is intrinsically fair but also provides opportunities to manage demand and allocate capacity through pricing, while also offering greater assurance that the revenues generated for reinvestment will not be outpaced by the demands placed by users of the system. It is with these expectations and opportunities in mind, together with recognition of the large and inevitable investment requirements lying ahead, that the committee offers the follow- ing recommendations. The original Interstate Highway System Construc- tion Program was underpinned by a long-term, collaborative commitment among the states and the federal government. A comparable commitment will be needed to modernize the system and ensure that it is responsive and resilient to changing demands and well integrated with broader passenger and freight transportation systems. The federal government remains best positioned to ensure that each stateâs Interstate investments contribute to a well-functioning, nationally and regionally integrated highway network. This can be accomplished by ensuring that routes critical to connectivity are provided and maintained, even in cases in which they are perceived to have limited local- or state-level benefit. For their part, statesâin cooperation with their metropolitan planning organizations and local governmentsâ remain well suited to developing common standards and carrying out their
A BLUEPRINT FOR ACTION 207 traditional responsibilities in the allocation of resources for Interstate high- way construction, operations, and maintenance. RECOMMENDATIONS Because the renewal and modernization of the Interstate Highway System will require large and sustained investment, federal leadership will be es- sential, along with funding that is both sufficient and reliable. The commit- teeâs recommendations are offered with these aims and outcomes in mind. Recommendation 1. Congress should legislate an Interstate Highway System Renewal and Modernization Program (RAMP). This program, presumed to be pursued without sacrificing normal ongoing system maintenance and repair, should focus on reconstructing deteriorated pavements, including their foundations, and bridge infrastructure; adding physical capacity and traffic demand and operations management capabilities (e.g., tolling) where needed; and increasing the systemâs resilience. RAMP should be modeled after the original Interstate Highway System Construction Program by â¢ Reinforcing the traditional program partnership in which the fed- eral government provides leadership in establishing the national vision for the overall system, the bulk of the needed funding, and overall standards, while states prioritize and execute projects in their continued role as owners, builders, operators, and maintain- ers of the system; â¢ Ensuring that the federal share of project spending is comparable to the 90 percent share of the original Interstate Highway System Construction Program; â¢ Committing the federal government to supporting projects from start to finish, but with a cap on total federal funding (i.e., a cost- to-complete approach); and â¢ Developing transition plans for updating and incorporating stan- dards for system uniformity and safety to accommodate changing vehicle and highway technologies, environmental and climate con- ditions, and usage patterns. Recommendation 2. A ârightsizingâ component of RAMP should address current and emerging demands to extend the Interstate Systemâs length and scope of coverage, and to remediate economic, social, and environmental disruption caused by highway segments that communities find overly intru- sive and are not deemed vital to network and intermodal traffic. Congress should direct the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to develop criteria for such
208 NATIONAL COMMITMENT TO THE INTERSTATE HIGHWAY SYSTEM system rightsizing using a consultative process that involves states, local jurisdictions, highway users, and the general public. The criteria and their development should take into account the interest in ensuring â¢ Adequate system connectivity and significant network flows of Interstate travel and commerce, including traffic from other impor- tant passenger and freight transportation modes; â¢ System access to growing centers of population and economic activity; â¢ System resilience through redundancy or other means as appropri- ate; and â¢ Responsiveness to national defense needs. Recommendation 3. To better ascertain the spending levels required for RAMP investments, Congress should direct U.S. DOT and FHWA to join with the states to assess the foundational integrity of the systemâs pavements and bridges, and identify where full reconstruction is needed based on ac- cepted life-cycle cost principles. Recommendation 4. To pay for RAMP investments, Congress should, as a near-term step, (1) increase the federal motor fuel tax to a level commen- surate with the federal share of the required investment, and (2) adjust the tax as needed to account for inflation and changes in vehicle fuel economy. Recommendation 5. To provide states and metropolitan areas with more options for raising revenue for their share of RAMP investments and for managing the operations of Interstate segments that offer limited oppor- tunity for physical expansion, Congress should lift the ban on tolling of existing general-purpose Interstate highways. As a condition for imposing those tolls, states should be required to assess their impact on current us- ers and offer alternative mobility options for those users significantly and disproportionately harmed by the tolls. Recommendation 6. To ensure that the federal governmentâs long-term commitment to RAMP is not threatened by declining fuel tax revenues as the vehicle fleet and its energy sources evolve, Congress should prepare for the need to employ new federal and state funding mechanisms, such as the imposition of tolls or per-mile charges on users of the Interstate Highway System. Recommendation 7. To support renewal and modernization investment decisions, Congress should direct, and provide sufficient funding for, U.S. DOT and FHWA to develop modeling tools and databases that
A BLUEPRINT FOR ACTION 209 â¢ Track the full condition of Interstate assets, including interchanges, and their reconstruction history; â¢ Can be used to assess transportation options that can supplement or substitute for additions to Interstate highway capacity; â¢ Allow for the monitoring and modeling of network-level traffic flows on the Interstate Highway System; and â¢ Further federal and state understanding of the demand for long- distance and interregional passenger and freight travel by highway and other modes. Because these recommended activities are important for guiding reinvest- ment in the Interstate System, careful consideration should be given to carrying them out in an effective and efficient manner. Recommendation 8. Congress should direct U.S. DOT and FHWA, working with states, industry, and independent technical experts, to start planning for the transition to more automated and connected vehicle operations. This effort should entail the needed research and updates to Interstate High- way System requirements and standards so as to ensure that basic intelligent transportation system (ITS) instrumentation is adopted on a consistent and system-wide basis, and that the uniformity and other attributes of pave- ment markings, interchange design, and the like are capable of facilitating eventual Interstate use by connected and automated vehicles. Emphasis should be placed on ensuring that renewal and moderniza- tion projects give full consideration to safety impacts, including the deploy- ment of advanced design and operational features that have demonstrated effectiveness in improving safety; and that cybersecurity protections are incorporated into the designs and upgrades of the Interstate highways and the vehicles that use them. Recommendation 9. Expanding on earlier legislative directives (e.g., the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century [MAP-21] Act and the Fix- ing Americaâs Surface Transportation [FAST] Act) for transportation agen- cies to consider resilience in long-term planning, Congress should direct U.S. DOT and FHWA to substantiate that state Interstate highway renewal and modernization projects have fully taken into account the need for resil- ience. To support these efforts, U.S. DOT and FHWA should be directed to â¢ Assess the vulnerability of the Interstate Highway System to the effects of climate change and extreme weather; â¢ Develop standards, in conjunction with states, for incorporating cost-effective resilience enhancements into projects; and
210 NATIONAL COMMITMENT TO THE INTERSTATE HIGHWAY SYSTEM â¢ Develop and maintain a database of cost-effective practices and resilience strategies employed by state highway and other trans- portation agencies, including any funding mechanisms dedicated to support resilience planning and implementation. Recommendation 10. Congress should direct U.S. DOT and FHWA to ascertain the Interstate Highway Systemâs contribution to the countryâs emission of greenhouse gases and other pollutants and recommend op- tions for reducing this contribution in conjunction with reduction in other emissions of pollutants, requiring states to consider the emissions impacts of capacity expansion and demand-management options, and legislation mandating a federal program to examine the siting of facilities that support alternative-fueled vehicles, such as electric vehicle charging stations located on Interstate highway corridors. CONCLUDING COMMENTS Central to the blueprint for action detailed in this chapter is federal leader- ship, starting with the resolve to reestablish the Interstate Highway Sys- temâs premier status and to ensure that this status is no longer allowed to obsolesce. Implementation of the committeeâs recommendations would require a fundamental shift away from federal policy that has lost focus on the Interstate System and the commitment to funding it adequately. The recommended actions would restore the systemâs premier status within the national highway program in a manner that is aggressive and ambitious, but by no means novel. Taking these actions would rekindle a tried-and- true federalâstate partnership; reinforce the systemâs long-standing reliance on user fees to provide a fair, adequate, and reliable source of funding; and reassert the forward-looking vision that was instrumental to the genesis of this crucial national asset more than a half-century ago.