FAQs

You've got questions about transportation. We've got answers. This section features frequent questions ARTBA receives from its members, congressional staff, the news media and others. If you have question that isn't answered here, submit it to the ARTBA staff.

What is MAP-21?

Who is responsible for building and maintaining roads, transit systems and airports in the United States?

How does the United States pay for transportation infrastructure and improvements?

How much is the federal gas tax?

How much does the federal gas tax cost the average U.S. driver/family each year?

How much do state gas taxes cost the average U.S. driver/family each year?

What is the average cost per mile of the federal gasoline tax?

How much does one penny of the federal motor vehicle tax generate for the Highway Trust Fund?

How much does the federal government invest in transportation improvements each year?

Do we spend more money each year building new roads and bridges or repairing and maintaining our existing roads and bridges?

How many miles of roads are there in the U.S.?

How much new road capacity do we build every year in the U.S.?

Are we "paving over America"? How much land is used for roads in the U.S.?

Other than highways, what is the composition of the U.S. transportation infrastructure?

What is the condition of the nation's highway network?

Which state's roads and bridges are in the best condition, and which are in the worst condition?

How much will it cost to improve the condition and performance of our nation's surface transportation systems?

What states have the most road mileage? The most bridges? Most airports?

Who designs and builds roads and bridges?

What kinds of jobs are there in transportation construction? How much do they pay? What education and skills are needed?

What materials and equipment are used to build roads and bridges?

How much does it cost to build a mile of road?

How safe are our nation's highways?

How important is the U.S. transportation infrastructure network to the U.S. economy?

Does the public have any say about the location and building of roads, bridges, transit systems and airports?

Are there any laws or regulations planners and builders must follow to help make sure transportation projects are environmentally sensitive?

How much time is taken to ensure transportation construction projects are meeting all of their environmental responsibilities and requirements?

How does road construction today impact the nation's wetlands?

Does the transportation construction industry recycle materials to lessen environmental impacts?

Does building new roads cause more driving, more traffic, and, therefore, more air pollution?

How much will it cost to improve the condition and performance of our Nation's surface transportation systems??

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What is MAP-21?

The “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” or MAP-21 is the federal law (P.L. 112-141) that authorizes the federal government to invest in highway and public transportation improvements during federal Fiscal Years 2013 (October 1, 2012 – September 30, 2013) and 2014. Enacted by Congress in June 2012 and signed into law by President Obama on July 6, the Act provides $40.3 billion for highway investment and $10.6 billion for mass transit investment in FY 2013 and $40.9 billion for highways and $10.7 billion for transit in FY 2014. The law also made a number of important improvements to these programs, in particular setting goals and performance standards for both programs, simplifying the structure of the federal highway program, and establishing a national freight policy. For more information, see ARTBA’s comprehensive analysis of MAP-21 at http://db78bc60e308ad8dc7c2-6f6534a35fc09b927eb00e4333a7f4cf.r47.cf2.rackcdn.com/uploaded/c/0e895333_currentissuesmap-21analysis.pdf.

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Who is responsible for building and maintaining roads, transit systems and airports in the United States?

Almost all roads, bridges, airports and transit systems in the U.S. are owned by state and local governments or government-created agencies, which are responsible for constructing and maintaining them. Every state has a department of transportation (DOT) as do most counties and cities. You can access a state's DOT Web site.

The federal government helps state and local governments pay for construction and upkeep of airports, transit systems and major roads, but actually owns very little of the nation's transportation infrastructure-mainly roads in national parks and forests, Indian reservations, and military bases. The federal government, however, does own and operate the nation's passenger rail system, Amtrak. Learn more at the U.S. DOT Web site.

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How does the United States pay for transportation infrastructure and improvements?

Transportation infrastructure in the U.S. is paid for largely through user-related taxes and fees that are dedicated to construction and maintenance.

The major source of funding for federal highway investment is the federal motor fuel excise tax of 18.4-cents-per-gallon of gasoline and 24.4-cents-per-gallon of diesel fuel. All revenues are credited to the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) established by Congress in 1956 as part of the legislation authorizing construction of the Interstate Highway System. Today, the HTF finances virtually all federal investment in highways and mass transit. Highway user tax rates have not been increased since 1993 despite large increases in highway travel, investment needs and construction costs.

There is also a federal Airport and Airways Trust Fund, which finances airport improvements and the air traffic control system. This trust fund is financed by fees on air travelers and taxes on aviation fuels.

State governments finance highway construction and maintenance through a broad set of taxes and fees, most of which are also user-related. Every state imposes taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel, from a low of eight-cents-per-gallon in Alaska to over 30-cents-per-gallon in a handful of states. Other revenue sources include vehicle registration fees, driver license fees, sales taxes on motor vehicles, heavy truck use taxes, traffic violation fines, and similar taxes and fees.

In recent years, state governments have been expanding their use of general revenues to finance highway improvements, largely because of a political reluctance to increase gasoline tax rates, and many state governments also borrow money for highway construction by issuing bonds. A few states permit local governments to levy taxes and fees on highway users, but in most states, local expenditures are financed out of property tax revenues.

Another development in recent years has been the growing interest in public-private partnerships (P3), where private investors like pension funds or investment banks finance some or all of the costs of building a highway and earn a return by charging tolls. This approach to highway construction, however, is still under development and only a few highways have been built with private sector funds in the U.S. More P3s are expected in the future.

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How much is the federal gas tax?

The federal gasoline tax is currently 18.4-cents-per-gallon of gasoline, of which 18.3-cents is credited to the Highway Trust Fund and invested in highway and mass transit improvements. Revenues from 0.1 cent per gallon are credited to the Liquid Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund. The federal diesel fuel tax is 24.4-cents-per-gallon. The revenues collected from these user fees help finance transportation improvements.

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How much does the federal gas tax cost the average U.S. driver/family each year?

According to the Federal Highway Administration, the average motor vehicle in the United States, including cars, SUVs, minivans and pickup trucks, was driven 11,489 miles in 2010, the latest year for which data are available.

The national average fuel economy for cars and light trucks was 21.6 miles per gallon in 2010, which means the average vehicle used 531 gallonw of motor fuel.

At a tax rate of 18.4 cents per gallon, consumers paid an average of $97.70 in federal gasoline taxes in 2010 for each vehicle they owned.

According to the Census Bureau, the average American family owns 2.1 vehicles, which means the average family pays $205.18 in federal motor fuel taxes in 2010, or about $3.95 per week. (Data source: Highway Statistics 2010, Table VM-1)

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How much do state gas taxes cost the average U.S. driver/family each year?

State gasoline tax rates range from a low of eight-cents-per-gallon (in Alaska) to more than 37-cents-per-gallon, so the amount of tax paid will vary by state of residence. The average tax rate among all states, however, was 21.82-cents-per-gallon in 2010, according to the latest data from the Federal Highway Administration.  With the average vehicle using 531 gallons of gasoline in 2010, this means the average cost of state gasoline taxes was $115.86 per vehicle. The average family with 2.1 vehicles thus paid $243.31 in state gasoline taxes in 2010 or $4.68 per week. (Data source: Highway Statistics, 2010, Table MF-205)

State-by-state gas tax chart

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What is the average cost per mile of the federal gasoline tax?

The federal excise tax rate on gasoline is 18.4-cents-per-gallon while the average personal motor vehicle in the United States gets 21.6 miles-per-gallon, which means the federal gasoline tax costs the average driver 8.5 tenths of a cent per mile.

To calculate how much federal gasoline tax you pay per mile, first determine your vehicle's fuel economy -- that is, how many miles your vehicle gets per gallon of gasoline. Then divide that number into 18.4-cents-per gallon to calculate your tax cost per mile. For example, if your vehicle averages 15 miles-per-gallon, the federal gasoline tax costs you one-and-a-quarter penny for every mile you drive. If your vehicle gets 25 miles-per-gallon, the tax costs you only three-quarters of a penny per mile.

The U.S. Treasury Department  calculates that the average cost of driving a motor vehicle beginning July 1, 2011 is 55.5 cents per mile, when gasoline, insurance, depreciation, maintenance and repair costs are all taken into account. The federal gasoline tax thus represents 1½ percent of the cost per mile of driving a motor vehicle in the U.S. (IRS Publication 463, dated July 17, 2012)

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How much does one penny of the federal motor vehicle tax generate for the Highway Trust Fund?

The federal excise tax on gasoline and diesel fuel currently generates about $1.75 billion of revenues per penny of tax. Of this total, $1.4 billion per penny of tax is deposited into the Highway Account and used to finance the federal highway program. The remaining $350 million per penny of tax is deposited into the Mass Transit Account and used to finance the federal public transportation program.

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How much does the federal government invest in transportation improvements each year?

The latest surface transportation authorization law, titled “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” or MAP-21, which was enacted July 6, 2012, provides a total of $40.3 billion for highway and bridge improvements in FY 2013 (the fiscal year from October 1, 2012 through September 30, 2013) and $40.9 billion in FY 2014. Both are slightly more than the $39.9 billion invested in FY 2012, but less than the $41.9 billion enacted by Congress for highway improvements in both FY 2010 and FY 2011. Most federal highway investment is used to upgrade and maintain the nation's core highways, including the Interstate Highway System, and to repair and replace deficient bridges.

The most ever invested in highway improvements by the federal government was $68.9 billion in FY 2009. This included $41.4 billion provided in SAFETEA-LU, the previous surface transportation law, for the regular highway program plus a one-time investment of $27.5 billion provided in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, also known as the stimulus bill.

For public transportation, MAP-21 provides a total of $10.6 billion in FY 2013 and $10.7 billion in FY 2014, both up slightly from $10.5 billion in FY 2012. Federal public transportation program funds are used to build and upgrade rail mass transit systems in major cities and to purchase and upgrade buses and facilities of local transit agencies.

In February 2012, after four and a half years of debate, Congress also enacted legislation authorizing federal investment in airport improvements, covering FY 2012 through FY 2015, titled the “FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012”. This bill provided $3.35 billion for each of these fiscal years for the Airport Improvement Program, which is the federal program that provides funds to build and upgrade airport runways, taxiways and other ground facilities. The federal government also finances the air traffic control system and helps airports pay for equipment upgrades.

Most of the $9-$10 billion annual construction work on railroads is privately-financed by the nation's railroad companies. The federal government, however, provides an annual appropriation, of just over $1.4 billion in FY 2012, for capital improvements to Amtrak as well as to help cover operating expenses.

In addition to the above amounts, Congress provided $500 million in FY 2012 for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program under which state and local governments can apply for grants that can be used for highway, transit or railway improvements. Awards were announced June 22, 2012, for 47 transportation projects in 34 states and the District of Columbia. Details on all TIGER grant awards for FY 2009-12 can be viewed at http://www.dot.gov/tiger

The Army Corps of Engineers  is responsible for capital improvements and maintenance of the nation's inland waterways. The regular appropriation for the Corps of Engineers in FY 2012 included $1.7 billion for construction activities, the same as in FY 2011.

In 2009, Congress provided a one-time additional investment of $48 billion for transportation improvements as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That investment financed more than 13,000 highway, transit and airport improvement projects and supported tens of thousands of jobs between 2009 and 2011, but most of the construction work has been completed, so all federal investment is currently being provided through the core federal highway, transit and airport programs.

(Sources: Corps of Engineers, PL112-74; TIGER grants, DOT website cited above; highway & transit, ARTBA summer of MAP-21; FAA, ARTBA Newsline)

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Do we spend more money each year building new roads and bridges or repairing and maintaining our existing roads and bridges?

The U.S. spends far more each year repairing and maintaining existing roads and bridges than building new ones, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

In 2010, the latest year for which the Federal Highway Administration has released data, the Federal highway program invested $28.4 billion in improvements to 85,587 miles of highway and 5,636 bridges. Only $3.0 billion or 10.6 percent of this total was invested in constructing 1,391 miles of new highways and 98 new bridges. An additional $4.5 billion or 15.9 percent was invested in projects that added capacity to the highway system. Almost three times as much, $18.7 billion or 65.9 percent, was invested in improvements designed to maintain or preserve existing roads and bridges, such as road reconstruction and resurfacing, bridge replacements and bridge repairs. The remaining $2.2 billion or 7.6 percent was invested in traffic safety improvements, traffic management, or environmental improvements. (Data source: Highway Statistics 2010, Table FA-10)

State and local governments also emphasize preservation over new construction. In 2008, the latest year for which data are available, state transportation departments spent a total of $63.2 billion on highway construction and maintenance, including improvements financed with federal highway funds. Only $18.9 billion, or 29.9 percent, involved constructing new highways or bridges or adding capacity to the system. By contrast, $44.3 billion, or 70.1 percent, was spent on maintenance or preservation construction. In addition, state DOTs spent $15.7 billion on right of way acquisition, project engineering, safety improvements to highways, traffic management improvements, or environmental enhancement projects, for a total investment of $79.0 billion. 



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How many miles of roads are there in the U.S.?

Currently, there are 4.07 million miles of road in the United States, according to the Federal Highway Administration, including Alaska and Hawaii, but not Puerto Rico. The core of the nation's highway system is the 46,900 miles of Interstate Highways, which comprise just over one percent of highway mileage but carry one-quarter of all highway traffic. The Interstates plus another 116,948 miles of major roads comprise the National Highway System, which carries most of the highway freight and traffic in the U.S.


Of the remaining 3.9 million miles of road, about 2.6 million miles are paved, which includes most roads in urban areas. However, 1.3 million miles or more than one-third of all road miles in the U.S. are still unpaved gravel or dirt roads. These are largely local roads or minor collectors in rural areas of the country. (Source: Highway Statistics 2010 Table HM-20 for total and Interstate; other data unchanged)

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How much new road capacity do we build every year in the U.S.?

U.S. highway capacity has been growing very slowly in recent years.

Currently, the U.S. has just over four million center-line miles of roads, providing 8.58 million lane-miles for highway travel, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Between 2000 and 2010, the U.S. built an average of 13,085 center-line miles of new roads per year. This, along with widening of existing roads, added 35,801 lane-miles per year. This means the capacity of the highway system grew only 4 percent during the decade. During that same time, the U.S. population grew just under 10 percent as did the number of licensed drivers, the number of motor vehicles and the number of vehicle miles traveled on the nation's highways.

Furthermore, more than 55 percent of the new road capacity added during that time represented local roads to develop new residential neighborhoods. Only 19 percent represented new capacity on the arterials and expressways that carry most highway traffic. It's no wonder congestion increases every year. (Source: Highway Statistics 2010, VM202 for VMT; Chart DV-1C for population, drivers & vehicles; Table HM-220 and HM-260 for miles and lane-miles of road)

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Are we "paving over America"? How much land is used for roads in the U.S.?

Based on data from the Federal Highway Administration, roads take up much less than one percent of the land area of the U.S.

The total land area of the contiguous 48 states is 2,959,067 square miles. (This excludes Alaska and Hawaii. Alaska has 17 percent of the land area of the U.S., but few roads. Adding Alaska would significantly reduce the percent of land covered by roads.)

There are currently 8,582,261 lane miles of road in the lower 48 states. The average width of a highway lane is 11 feet. This means roads cover 17,879 square miles of land, or just six-tenths of one percent of the total land area of the contiguous 48 states. Even if shoulders, driveways and parking lots were added, the total would still be less than one percent of the nation's land area.

During the past decade, the U.S. builds an average of 35,801 lane miles of highway per year. This added 74.6 square miles per year to the amount of land covered by roads. At this rate of highway construction, it would take 157 years to increase the U.S. land mass covered by roads to even one percent. (Source: recalculated using 2010 lane miles data from above answer)

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Other than highways, what is the composition of the U.S. transportation infrastructure?

The United States has an extensive transportation network.

In addition to 4.1 million miles of roads, the transportation infrastructure in 2012 consisted of:

  • 5,178 public-use airports.  This includes 1,025 airports that serve commercial carriers and emplane 670 million passengers each year. There are also 14,353 private airports that serve recreational and business air travel. 
  • Just over 140,000 miles of railroad track that carry much of the nation's heavy freight and agricultural output. This includes 95,700 miles operated by the nation's Class 1 freight railroads, 12,000 miles operated by regional freight railroads and 32,456 miles operated by local freight railroads. Amtrak operates 21,178 miles of passenger rail service in the U.S., much of it over track owned by the freight railroads. 
  • More than 236,000 route-miles of scheduled bus service plus 11,195 miles of fixed rail transit including trolley buses, commuter rail, subways and light rail systems. The fixed-rail transit systems serve 3,114 stations where passengers can board or exit trains
  • Almost 8,200 ports and other commercial facilities on 25,320 miles of navigable channels in the United States. This includes 5,588 ports and facilities serving ocean-going traffic, 647 on the Great Lakes, and 1,949 on inland rivers and waterways. (Source: Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 2012 Pocket Guide to Transportation)



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What is the condition of the nation's highway network?

There are two measures that are used to assess the condition of the nation's highways. One focuses on physical conditions, i.e., whether the roadways and bridges are in good repair. The other focuses on performance, i.e., whether the system is providing adequate transportation services to meet the nation's needs.

Unfortunately, U.S. highways do poorly under either measure.

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Physical Conditions

The Federal Highway Administration tracks the state of repair on  996,480 miles of major highways that are eligible for federal aid. In 2011, the latest data available, the FHWA found that 187,365 miles, or 18.8 percent, were in poor or mediocre condition and needed repaving or even more substantive repairs.

Highways in rural areas are in somewhat better condition, with 14.9 percent of rural miles in poor or mediocre condition, than those in urban areas, where 26.9 percent of miles need repairs. Urban highways carry more traffic and thus get more wear and tear. The nation's Interstate Highways are in relatively good condition, with only 1.8 percent of rural miles and 5.2 percent of urban miles in poor or mediocre repair. Other highways, however, are in much worse shape, particularly in urban areas where almost one third of all arterial and collector miles are in poor or mediocre condition.

There is no information on the 3.1 million miles of local roads and rural minor connectors that are not eligible for federal aid. But if the same 18.8 percent are in poor or mediocre condition, then 578,636 miles of these roads would also be in need of repair. (Source: 2011 Highway Statistics, Tables HM-63 and HM-64).

Bridges: The Federal Highway Administration's  2012 National Bridge Inventory shows that 140,805, or 23.2 percent, of the nation's 607,595 bridges (excluding Puerto Rico) are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. This includes 65,322 structurally deficient bridges (10.8 percent), which are safe to use but need significant maintenance or repair to remain in service, and 75,483 functionally obsolete bridges (12.4 percent) which may be in good repair but fail to meet current design standards, such as lane width, shoulder width or overhead clearance and thus need to be upgraded when they are replaced. (Source: National Bridge Inventory, 2012)

In recent years, state and local highway agencies have been investing heavily in bridge maintenance and repairs. As a result, bridge conditions have been improving. Between 1998 and 2012, the number of deficient bridges fell from 29.5 percent to 23.2 percent. The improvement was concentrated in structurally deficient bridges, which declined from 16.0 percent of all bridges to 10.8 percent. The number of functionally obsolete bridges declined more modestly, from 13.6 percent to 12.4 percent.

Performance

The performance of the nation's highway system is measured by the amount of congestion and delay incurred by highway users. The latest information is from the Texas Transportation Institute's 2012 "Urban Mobility Report," which provided data on highway performance through 2011.

According to the report, congestion caused Americans to spend an extra 5.5 billion hours in their cars and trucks in 2011 and to purchase an extra 2.9 billion gallons of fuel for a congestion cost of $121 billion. $27 billion of this represented the impact of congestion on the U.S. trucking industry, which raised the price paid by American households for many goods and services.

For the average U.S. motorist, congestion during peak periods added 38 hours to their driving time in 2011 and caused each one to waste 19 gallons of gasoline, for an annual cost of $818 per motorist.

All of the measures of congestion and delay have been getting progressively worse since the Texas Transportation Institute issued its first report in 1982. Furthermore, the problem of congestion has been spreading to smaller and smaller cities. In 1982, only one city, Los Angeles, registered a delay of more than 40 hours per motorist. In 2011, the average delay for the 101 largest cities in the U.S. was 43 hours per motorist, with Washington, DC, motorists experiencing 67 hours of delay, and Los Angeles and San Francisco 61 hours.

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Which state's roads and bridges are in the best condition, and which are in the worst condition?

According to 2011 data from the Federal Highway Administration—the latest available— Kansas has the worst roads in the country, with 51.8 percent in poor or mediocre condition. Not far behind: Connecticut with 49.1 percent and New Jersey with 44.0 percent. Other states with more than 35 percent of road miles in poor or mediocre condition are Hawaii (43.5 percent), Oklahoma (36.0 percent), West Virginia (35.2 percent), California (35.2 percent) and Rhode Island (35.2 percent).

The state reporting the best road conditions is Nevada, with only 2.3 percent of highway miles in poor or mediocre condition, followed by Missouri with 3.3 percent. Other states with roads in relatively good condition include Oregon (3.9 percent in poor or mediocre condition), North Dakota (5.6 percent), Wyoming (6.4 percent), Iowa (6.9 percent), Georgia (7.1 percent), Montana (7.5 percent), Kentucky (7.6 percent), Alabama (7.9 percent) and Tennessee (8.0 percent).

Hawaii and California have the worst urban Interstate Highways, with 31.9 percent and 14.9 percent of miles respectively in poor or mediocre condition. Hawaii has the worst rural Interstate Highways, with 12.9 percent of miles in poor or mediocre condition, followed by Alaska with 11.2 percent. (Source: 2011 Highway Statistics, Tables HM-63 and HM-64)

According to the 2012 National Bridge Inventory, the state with the worst bridge conditions is Rhode Island, where 50.1 percent are designated either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Second is Massachusetts with 48.3 percent, followed by Hawaii with 42.7 percent and Pennsylvania with 40.2 percent.

The state with the best bridges is Arizona, where only 11.4 percent are designated as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Other states with good bridge conditions include Nevada, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Utah, which all have less than 15 percent of their bridges designated as structurally deficient of functionally obsolete.

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How much will it cost to improve the condition and performance of our nation's surface transportation systems?

According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's  2010 "Report to Congress on the Conditions and Performance of the Nation's Highways, Bridges and Transit,"—the most recent report— all levels of government should be investing $123 billion in highway improvements during 2013 just to maintain current physical and performance conditions on the nation's highways and bridges. This would grow to $130 billion by 2016 if highway construction costs grow at the same rate as the overall inflation rate.

Traditionally, the federal highway program has financed just under 45 percent of all highway improvements while state and local governments have financed the rest. This means Congress should provide $67 billion for the federal highway program in FY 2013 to meet this commitment plus administrative and research costs. Actual funding for the federal highway program in FY 2013 under MAP-21 will be $40.3 billion, or about $27 billion less than the federal share needed to maintain current conditions.

The current level of federal investment in the transit formula programs, just under $8.5 billion in FY 2013, comes much closer to the federal share of investment needed to maintain current transit systems and equipment in a state of good repair according to the 2010 Conditions and Performance Report. The report, however, does not try to estimate needed investment in new transit systems, for which the federal government will provide $1.9 billion in FY 2013.

In addition to the regular annual investment in highways and transit, the Economic Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided a one-time injection of $27.5 billion of federal funds for quick-start highway improvements to help stimulate the economy and $8.4 billion for transit. These investments helped address the shortfall in highway and transit investment but much more is still needed. (Source: ARTBA analysis of 2010 Conditions and Performance Report)

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What states have the most road mileage? The most bridges? Most airports?

According to Federal Highway Administration data, the state with the most road mileage is Texas, with 311,249 miles. California is second with 172,139 miles.

Texas also has more bridges than any other state, a total of 51,878, followed by Ohio with 27,403.

The state with the most airports is Texas with 1,459. Alaska comes in second with 550 airports.

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Who designs and builds roads and bridges?

Road and bridge improvements are designed by civil engineers, who prepare the drawings, specify the types and quantities of materials to be used, and determine how to assure the safety of construction workers and motorists while the project is underway. Construction companies use these plans to build the project.

State and local highway agencies can design a highway construction project "in-house," with engineers who are employees of the agency, or contract with a private engineering firm to design and prepare the plans. Some state highway agencies do all design work in-house. Most, however, use both methods. Projects also go through comprehensive reviews for environmental impacts.

For most highway and bridge projects, whether new construction or improvements to existing infrastructure, once the plans are complete, the state or local highway agency then asks for bids from qualified construction firms to build the project. The construction company that submits the lowest bid is selected to do the construction work.

In recent years, some state highway agencies have been using a "design-build" approach for major highway or bridge construction projects. Under design-build, the state highway agency contracts with a company to do both the design and construction work on a project, based on the state's project specifications. This can often speed project delivery and lower costs, since some of the preliminary construction work can get underway while the project details are being designed.

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What kinds of jobs are there in transportation construction? How much do they pay? What education and skills are needed?

There are a broad range of career opportunities in transportation construction, providing relatively well-paid jobs for workers of virtually all educational levels and skills.

The main employers are state and local departments of transportation, private engineering and design firms, and private construction companies. Each offers a different mix of career opportunities.

Job opportunities at state and local departments of transportation and private engineering firms include:

  • Civil engineers, who design projects to build or improve transportation infrastructure
  • Transportation planners, who determine infrastructure needs
  • Contract managers, who draw up and oversee contracts with private engineering companies and construction firms to design and build construction projects
  • Inspectors, who monitor the progress and quality of construction work to assure contract provisions are met
  • Auditors and finance officers, who pay bills, collect receivables, and assure accuracy of financial transactions
  • IT personnel, since most operations and records are now computerized
  • Construction managers, who manage large construction projects on behalf of state or local departments of transportation
  • Office and clerical workers

Most of these occupations require a college degree and some require advanced training. Salaries and benefits match those of similar professions.

The career opportunities provided by construction companies focus more heavily on construction occupations, although managerial and professional jobs are also important. In addition to jobs similar to those described above, the jobs at construction companies include:

  • Project manager, who manages all aspects of a construction project
  • Estimator, who can work from engineering plans to determine how much it will cost to build a project and thus the amount the construction company should bid
  • Safety and environmental compliance managers
  • Purchasing agent, who is responsible for purchasing needed materials and equipment
  • Heavy equipment operators and truck drivers
  • Skilled craftsmen, such as carpenters, electricians and mechanics
  • Communications and marketing personnel
  • Laborers, who do a variety of jobs that may not require special skills

    Educational requirements vary by occupation, with most requiring at least a high school diploma or equivalent. Skills can be developed in training courses and on the job. Salaries are very competitive with similar jobs in manufacturing and well above those in many service industries.

    Each year, ARTBA conducts a survey of wages and salaries paid by construction companies for most jobs. The following table shows the national average for many construction jobs in 2008, although local wages and salaries can vary significantly.

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    What materials and equipment are used to build roads and bridges?

    There are hundreds of industries that provide materials and services for the construction of the nation's highways, bridges, airports, ports and transit infrastructure systems. The principal materials used in highway and bridge construction include asphalt, aggregates, concrete, cement and steel.

    Highway and bridge construction is an important market for many of these suppliers. The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis provides information on the purchases and inputs used by industries in the United States. According to their data, output in the following industries is dependent on the highway and bridge construction.

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    How much does it cost to build a mile of road?

    There is no single answer to this question. Construction costs per mile of road depend on location, terrain, type of construction, number of lanes, lane width, durability, number of bridges, etc. It costs more to build a new road than to rehabilitate a road or add lanes. Roads cost more to build in urban areas than in rural areas. Roads in mountainous terrain are more expensive to build than roads on flat land.

    Nonetheless, some states have developed cost models to guide planning for their highway construction programs. These models give a ballpark figure for various kinds of highway improvements. The following are some examples:

    • Construct a new 2-lane undivided road - about $2-$3 million per mile in rural areas, about $4-5 million in urban areas.
    • Construct a new 4-lane highway -- $4-$6 million per mile in rural and suburban areas, $8-$10 million per mile in urban areas.
    • Construct a new 6-lane Interstate highway - about $7 million per mile in rural areas, $12 million or more per mile in urban areas.
    • Mill and resurface a 4-lane road - about $1.25 million per mile.
    • Expand an Interstate Highway from 4 lanes to 6 lanes - about $4 million per mile.

      The Florida Department of Transportation has published its generic cost per mile information for 2009 online.

      The Arkansas Highway Department's estimated cost per mile for 2005 is available online.

      Highway construction costs have risen about 25 percent since this was posted. 

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      How safe are our nation's highways?

      In 2010, 32,885 people were killed on the nation's highways, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the lowest number of deaths on American highways since 1949. Another 2.2 million were injured.

      Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death of Americans between the ages of 1 and 24 years old. In 2010, motor vehicle accidents accounted for more than one out of every five deaths among this age group. (Source: Centers for Disease Control, National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Report, Volume 60, Number 4, January 11, 2012, Table 7).

      Poor road conditions contribute to more than one-third of all highway fatalities, according to the NHTSA safety data.  Better alignments, wider lanes, median barriers, improved signage and signals, turn lanes, crash cushions, wider shoulders, utility pole relocation and other highway improvements could save thousands of lives each year.

      Almost three-quarters of all fatal accidents occur on two-lane roads. (NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts, 2009)

      The Interstate Highways, despite high speeds, are the safest roads, with 0.78 fatalities per 100 million miles of travel. Wide lanes, gentle curves, long lines of sight, wide shoulders, barrier separated traffic and limited access points all contribute to the safety record. The worst are rural two-lane roads with a record of 3.08 fatalities per 100 million miles of travel (Highway Statistics 2009, Tables VM-2 and FL-30).

      Construction of the Interstate Highways has saved thousands of lives over the years. If all highway traffic were to occur today on same kinds of roads as we had in the 1950's, the number of highway fatalities each year would exceed 165,000.

      NHTSA reports that highway crashes cost Americans more than $230 billion annually, including the cost of medical bills, lost wages, legal fees, auto repairs and delays. This is more than two percent of the nation's total output of goods and services or Gross Domestic Product. The average cost per household is close to $2,000 per year. According to NHTSA, public revenues paid for almost 10 percent of crash costs, adding $200 annually to the tax bill of every household in the U.S.

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      How important is the U.S. transportation infrastructure network to the U.S. economy?

      A safe and efficient transportation system is one of the fundamental requirements of a modern economy. Virtually every business and industry depends on the transportation system to obtain needed materials and labor and to get goods and services to customers. Every household depends in some measure on the transportation system for access to work, shopping, medical care, church, family and entertainment. Millions of workers depend directly on the transportation system for jobs - auto workers, bus and truck drivers, airline workers, auto mechanics and gas station attendants, and hotel employees, among others.

      Jobs: Building and maintaining the nation's transportation infrastructure is itself a major source of jobs in the U.S. Every $1 billion invested in highways supports 27,823 jobs, according to the  Federal Highway Administration,  including 9,537 on-site construction jobs, 4,324 jobs in supplier industries and 13,962 jobs throughout the rest of the economy. Investment in other modes would support a similar number of jobs.

      In 2012, $117 billion worth of construction work was performed on transportation projects, including highways, bridges, subways, light rail systems, freight rail, airports and water ports. This investment supported more than 3.2 million jobs in the U.S., including just over one million construction jobs. Maintenance and administration of the nation's highways and other transportation infrastructure supported additional jobs.

      Freight: In 2010, according to the Federal Highway Administration, more than $16.0 trillion dollars of freight was shipped in the U.S. including $13.0 trillion of domestic shipments and $3.0 trillion of exports and imports. Two-thirds of the total, or $10.8 trillion, was shipped by truck on the nation's highways. Another 17 percent, or $2.7 trillion, involved multiple modes including trucks, which means trucks were involved in 82 percent of all freight shipped in the U.S. in 2010. Rail, air, water and pipelines accounted for the remaining 18 percent of freight shipments. (Freight Facts and Figures 2011, http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freight/freight_analysis/nat_freight_stats/docs/11factsfigures/table2_2.htm)

      The Federal Highway Administration estimates that the volume of freight shipments will more than double between 2010 and 2040 to almost $39.5 trillion in constant dollars, with $21.8 trillion of that carried by truck and $10.3 trillion by intermodal combinations that include trucks. The growth will put enormous pressure on every element of the nation's transportation infrastructure. (Freight Facts and Figures 2011, same web site as above.)

      Benefits to businesses: Businesses have always depended on the nation's transportation system to connect to suppliers and customers, but during the past 25 years improvements in transportation have also been a major source of productivity increases and reduced costs for many U.S. businesses. Manufacturers and retailers today use the just-in-time delivery system to assure materials are available when needed in the manufacturing and production process and finished goods arrive at retail stores and customers' docks in a timely manner. This has greatly reduced the need and expense of warehousing inventory, freeing up scarce capital to invest in, and make improvements to, other business activities like technology, product quality and marketing.

      Just-in-time logistics, however, require a dependable transportation system, which is threatened by the ever-growing problem of congestion on our highways, rail, airports and water ports. Congestion makes transportation slower, more costly and unreliable. Adapting to congestion requires scheduling more time for trips, which raises labor costs, or holding more inventory which ties up capital. When that happens, the economy becomes less productive, costs increase and living standards decline.

      Personal mobility: Americans are among the most mobile people on earth. In 2009, the latest year for which data are available, Americans traveled a total of 4.85 trillion miles by all transportation modes, or an average of 15,791 miles per person. Most of the travel, 3.9 trillion miles, or 81.1 percent, of the total, was by automobile, truck or motorcycle, an average of 13,799 miles per person.

      Air travel accounted for 552 billion miles or 11.4 percent of the total, while intercity buses and public transportation, including bus and rail, accounted for 342 billion miles of travel, or 7.1 percent of the total.

      Virtually every trip has an economic purpose or impact on the economy. Most obvious is the daily commute to and from work for the nation's 141 million workers. But every trip to the grocery store or shopping center has an economic impact, as do trips to restaurants, to the movies, to vacation spots, to school, even to church where the weekly offering helps maintain the building and clergy. And many trips are essential to our quality of life, including visits to family and friends, a night out after a hard day's work, a drive in the country or an emergency trip to the hospital.

      Defense and security: The U.S. transportation infrastructure is critical to our national defense and homeland security. More than 60,000 miles of roads have been designated part of the Strategic Highway Network, including the entire Interstate Highway System, because of their important role in transporting military equipment and personnel. Roads also comprise the primary evacuation routes in the event of an attack by a foreign enemy such as that on the World Trade Center in 2001, or a natural disaster like Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012. These disasters taught the need for both adequate capacity and redundancy in the nation's transportation system.

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      Does the public have any say about the location and building of roads, bridges, transit systems and airports?

      The review and approval process for all transportation projects includes multiple opportunities for the public to submit comments to a variety of federal and state transportation and environmental agencies. These public agencies must then respond to these comments before proceeding with the project.

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      Are there any laws or regulations planners and builders must follow to help make sure transportation projects are environmentally sensitive?

      There are multiple federal environmental statutes governing how transportation projects are built. These include, but are not limited to, the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. There are also federal regulations that must be adhered to relating to storm water runoff, historic sites and wildlife refuges. Individual state governments also have their own sets of environmental laws and regulations, which must be followed.

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      How much time is taken to ensure transportation construction projects are meeting all of their environmental responsibilities and requirements?

      According to a report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), as many as 200 major steps are involved in developing a transportation improvement project from the identification of the project need to the start of construction. The GAO estimates it typically takes between nine and 19 years to plan, gain approval of, and construct a new major federally-funded highway project. 

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      How does road construction today impact the nation's wetlands?

      According to an April 2008 report issued by the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Federal-Aid Highway Program has created over 52,000 new acres of wetlands since 1996. This means that for every one acre of wetlands impacted by a transportation improvement project, nearly three new acres have been created. Or looked at another way, transportation projects have not only mitigated all of the wetlands they have impacted, they have exceeded that amount and added more than 33,000 acres of new wetlands.

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      Does the transportation construction industry recycle materials to lessen environmental impacts?

      The transportation construction industry has a long and impressive history of recycling. Each year, according the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, approximately 200 million tons of old highway/street pavements are recycled, with 80 percent of that material reused in highway construction projects. To put the 200 million tons in perspective, the total weight of municipal solid waste recycled yearly (cans, bottles and newspapers) is only 82 million tons.

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      Does building new roads cause more driving, more traffic, and, therefore, more air pollution?

      No. Just as building new schools does not "cause" more students or studying, building roads does not "cause" more drivers or traffic. Both schools and roads, like other public infrastructure and housing, are built to accommodate an ever growing U.S. population and economy.

      New roads do provide new access opportunities for citizens and businesses-to jobs and employees, health care, shopping, recreation and family. Whether or not they use a particular road, however, depends on whether they think it provides them with a more efficient (less time spent), less expensive (less money spent), or safer route than their other transportation alternatives.

      And according to both the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, despite gains in gross domestic product, population and vehicle miles traveled, the nation's air quality has improved. Specifically, between 1970 and 2002, the transportation sector has helped reduce volatile organic compounds (VOCs) by 73 percent, nitrous oxides (NOx) by 41 percent, particulate matter (PM) by 50 percent, and carbon monoxide (CO) by 62 percent. NOx and VOCs are precursors to ozone and associated with greenhouse gasses and climate change. As levels of VOCs and NOx continue to decrease, so will ozone and greenhouse gases.

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      How much will it cost to improve the condition and performance of our Nation's surface transportation systems?

      According to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation's 2010 "Report to Congress on the Conditions and Performance of the Nation's Highways, Bridges and Transit,"—the most recent report— all levels of government should invest a minimum of $123 billion during 2013 in highway improvements just to maintain current physical and performance conditions on the nation's highways and bridges. This would grow to $130 billion by 2016 if highway construction costs grow at the same rate as the projected overall inflation rate.

      Traditionally, the federal highway program has financed about 43 percent of all highway improvement capital costs while state and local governments have financed the rest. This means the federal highway program should currently be investing about $63 billion in highways, including administrative and research costs. In Fiscal Year 2012, federal highway investment totaled $39.8 billion, or $23 billion less than the federal share needed to maintain current conditions.

      The current level of federal investment in transit, just over $10 billion per year, comes much closer to the amount needed to maintain current transit systems and equipment. According to the 2010 Conditions and Performance Report, the federal share of capital investment required to maintain the nation’s public transportation systems in a state of good repair would be $11.4 billion in 2013. To maintain a state of good repair and increase capacity in line with projected growth of ridership would require a federal investment of $13.1 billion. Both figures would grow over time to accommodate inflation. These figures, however, do not include needed investment in new transit systems. They therefore probably underestimate the amount the federal government should be investing in transit.

      In addition to the regular annual investment in highways and transit, the Economic Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided a one-time injection of $27.5 billion of federal funds for quick-start highway improvements to help stimulate the economy and $8.4 billion for transit. These investments helped address the shortfall in highway and transit investment but much more is still needed.

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