Scope of the U.S. Highway Network
The United States has more than 4.1 million miles of public highways plus almost 615,000 bridges. These roads and bridges form the backbone of the U.S. transportation network. In 2015, the latest year for which data are available, America’s roads and bridges carried almost 3.1 trillion vehicle miles of travel, accounting for more than 82 percent of all personal travel and more than 85 percent of the total value of freight shipped in the U.S.
Over the years, the extent and quality of our road system has been improving. Currently, 66.3 percent of all roads and streets in the U.S. are paved, compared with about 27 percent in 1953. Total road and street mileage has increased approximately 22.6 percent since 1953. Paved mileage, however, has almost tripled, from 919 thousand miles in 1953 to 2.7 million miles today.
Most highway mileage is located in rural areas – more than 3.0 million miles. But these roads carry only 30 percent of highway traffic. Most traffic is in urban areas, resulting in greater wear and tear on urban roads and bridges and congested travel conditions.
Building and maintaining roads and bridges is generally the responsibility of state and local governments. Of the 4.1 million miles of road in the U.S., almost 97 percent are under the jurisdiction of state and local governments. Only 146,000 miles are under the jurisdiction of federal agencies, including roads in national forests and parks and on military and Indian reservations.
Since the early 20th century, however, the federal government has shared the cost of improvements to the core highways and bridges that are most essential to the strength and performance of the nation’s economy. Just under 1 million miles of road, or about 24.6 percent of the nation’s road mileage, is eligible to receive federal aid through the Federal-aid Highway Program—including the Interstate Highway System, the National Highway System and most other arterial and connector roads and bridges. This mileage carries 84.5 percent of total U.S. highway travel.
The 48,053-mile Interstate Highway System, initiated by Congress in 1956 and the largest public works project in history, is the backbone of the federal-aid system. Initial construction on the Interstate System is now virtually complete. The Interstate system accounts for just over 1 percent of the nation’s total road mileage, but handles 25.1 percent of the nation’s total road travel.
Beyond that, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) set in motion a framework for developing a strategic federal investment program designed to upgrade other existing highways and bridges that serve a national interest. The law directed the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to designate, in consultation with the states, a 161,800-mile “National Highway System” (NHS) to serve as the focal point for future federal highway and bridge capital investments. The NHS designation became law in November 1995. Since then, the National Highway System has been expanded to 222,743 miles.
The NHS helps focus federal highway funding on international and Interstate routes, as well as on roads that serve major population centers, ports, airports, and international border crossings. While the NHS includes only 5.4 percent of the nation’s existing highway mileage, it carries 54.7 percent of total vehicle-miles traveled in this country [including 80 percent of all tourist travel and 75 percent of all heavy truck travel].
Specifically, the NHS includes the 48,053-mile Interstate Highway System, many existing major urban and rural arterials, the 15,000-mile defense strategic highway network, and strategic intermodal highway connectors.
The NHS reflects the major demographic and travel changes that have occurred in this country since the designation of the Interstate Highway System over 60 years ago. Highway travel in the U.S. has increased as the population has grown, as more women have entered the workplace, and as jobs have been created outside of urban centers.
For example, just since 1980, the number of vehicle miles traveled on the nation’s highways and bridges has increased 102 percent, from 1.5 trillion miles to 3.1 trillion miles. Growth on the federal-aid system, which includes the NHS and most other major roads, has grown even faster, 115 percent. The greatest growth, over 235 percent, occurred on segments of the Interstate Highway System in urban areas.
The number of people using the nation’s highways has also grown. Today, there are more than 218 million highway users—licensed drivers—in the U.S, up from 145 million in 1980. They operate over 263.6 million motor vehicles: 242 million automobiles and light trucks, 12.1 million large trucks and buses and over 8.6 million motorcycles. Annual travel by motor vehicle has reached 3.1 trillion miles—over 11,740 miles per year per vehicle.
The personal motor vehicle (automobile, light truck, van and motorcycle) is the predominant form of personal transportation in the U.S. Privately owned vehicles account for 80.3 percent of all personal miles of travel. By way of comparison, air transportation (commercial and general aviation) accounts for approximately 12.1 percent of personal miles of travel; public transit accounts for 7.4 percent; intercity rail less than 1 percent. Walking, biking and other modes such as ferry boats account for the remainder.
Highways and the U.S. Economy
There is a strong relationship between the nation’s economy and travel on the nation’s highway system. Since the 1930s, growth in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and vehicle-miles of travel (VMT) reflect strikingly similar patterns (with the exception of the World War II years).
The efficient movement of food, raw materials and manufactured products from place of origin to export facilities is key to America’s competitiveness in the world marketplace.
With a land area of 3.6 million square miles, however, we face transportation challenges unique among the world’s economically developed nations. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), the average freight trip by for-hire truck in the U.S. is more than 500 miles in length.
Transportation and transportation-related spending accounts for 9 percent of GDP, while road transportation accounts for 60 percent of all U.S. spending on transportation. In 2012, trucks handled slightly more than 42 percent of all U.S. freight-ton miles and carried more than 73 percent of all freight shipped in the U.S. by value. Obviously, a very significant portion of the cost of U.S. goods is directly related to the cost of highway transport. To improve U.S. competitiveness, a high quality national highway and bridge network is essential.
After housing (33 percent), transportation (almost 17 percent) accounts for the largest single household expenditure.
A 2015 study by the Texas Transportation Institute found traffic congestion due to inadequate capacity contributes to almost 7 billion of hours of delay on the Interstate Highway System and other principal arterials, compared to uncongested conditions, adding billions in costs to interstate commerce. According to the study, congestion in the nation’s 471 largest urban areas costs motorists $160 billion annually in wasted time and motor fuel.
Highway and Bridge Conditions and Capital Investment Requirements
The U. S. DOT is required by law to prepare a report for Congress every two years that details the condition and capital investment requirements of the U.S. highway and bridge network. The 2015 Conditions and Performance Report, issued in early 2017, found:
- Just under 20 percent of the highway mileage on federal-aid highways in the United States failed to meet the criteria for acceptable pavement; in urban areas, the report found that 25 percent of arterial roads and 40 percent of collector roads were in poor condition.
- The document reports that just maintaining the nation’s 2012 highway and bridge conditions would require a total annual capital investment by all levels of government of $89.9 billion per year in constant 2012 dollars over 20 years. The backlog of work needed to bring all roads and bridges up to a state of good repair totals $836 billion.
According to the 2015 report, actually improving the nation’s highways and bridges to meet strategic economic and safety goals would require a total annual investment of $142.5 billion in constant 2012 dollars over 20 years.
According to the most recent data on the condition of U.S. bridges, released by FHWA in January of 2018:
- 54,259 bridges, or 8.8 percent of all bridges, were determined to be structurally deficient and in need of repair. Fortunately, most of these were smaller bridges with light traffic under local jurisdictions; only 3.4 percent of bridges on the NHS were found to be structurally deficient.
- Another 82,377 bridges, or 13.5 percent, were found to be functionally obsolete, which means they do not meet current design or engineering standards. Unfortunately, many of these bridges are on major highway networks; for example, almost 22 percent of bridges on urban Interstate Highways are functionally obsolete.
Federal policymakers should recognize that America will need additional highway capacity to meet transportation demand driven by changing demographics and public and business needs.
Federal surface transportation law should not be used as a tool to advance anti-highway and anti-growth social policies. Provisions of existing law that support these agendas should be eliminated.
Objectives Guiding Development of the ARTBA Highway Policy
The American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) believes the U.S. highway program must emphasize the following objectives:
- Highway capital improvements should be financed primarily through the collection of highway user fees. These fees, which should be imposed by government, must be raised as necessary to provide a continuing source of funding for the highway program.
- Safety must be of paramount concern in the design, construction, maintenance and traffic operations of the nation’s highway system.
- Critically deficient bridges should be repaired or replaced. Improved rideability and pavement durability should be program goals.
- The capacity and efficiency of the highway system should be improved as necessary to meet public demand and physical condition requirements.
Highway Financing Issues
Support of the User Fee Concept
ARTBA believes the cost of building and maintaining highway infrastructure should be borne primarily by highway users through the imposition of dedicated fees, excises, and tolls. Americans realize that greater investments in highways and bridges are needed to keep them safe and efficient. And opinion research shows that a solid majority support dedicated increases in highway user fees for these purposes. In light of documented, unmet surface transportation needs, highway user fee revenue should only be used to finance highway, bridge and mass transit infrastructure capital improvements.
Permanent Extension of the Highway Trust Fund
There will always be a need for federal investment in the nation’s highway and bridge system.
ARTBA supports permanent extension of the federal Highway Trust Fund’s expenditure authority—and funding sources to support it—to ensure that adequate financial resources are available to meet the federal role without causing disruption in state highway improvement programs.
Opposition to “Unified” Trust Fund
Proposals to create a single federal transportation trust fund or a “surface transportation trust fund” should be rejected. Such an entity would promote further diversion of highway user revenues to non-highway purposes.
Increasing Motor Fuels Taxes to Meet Highway Capital Needs
ARTBA supports increasing the federal motor fuels tax, dedicated to the Highway Trust Fund, to finance highway and bridge capital improvements necessary to, at minimum, raise the amount of revenue the U.S. DOT reports is needed just “to maintain existing conditions” and system performance.
State and local governments should at least increase their motor fuel taxes to the level necessary to fully participate in the federal-aid program.
Indexing Highway User Fees
ARTBA urges all levels of government to index highway user fees-including motor fuels excises to the Consumer Price Index to assure that these fees rise commensurate with increases in inflation.
This action would help preserve the purchasing power of the highway and bridge improvement program.
Budgetary Protections for the Highway Trust Fund
TEA-21 established historic budgetary protections for the Highway Trust Fund that ensure annual federal highway and bridge investment will at least be commensurate with highway user fee revenue credited to the fund’s Highway Account in the prior year. Congress has supplemented existing trust fund user fee revenue with a series of general fund transfers since 2008. If and when the integrity of the Highway Trust Fund is restored by returning to an exclusive user fee revenue stream to support surface transportation investments, those budgetary protections should be reinstated to assure all trust fund user fee revenue is invested expeditiously to support surface transportation improvements and avoid accumulation of a trust balance in excess of the amount needed to meet cash flow requirements.
Combating User Fee Evasion
To ensure that all federal transportation user fees are collected as intended, federal and state activities aimed at combating tax evasion in this area should be continued and expanded. Experience at both the state and federal levels suggest that even modest resources expended in this effort yield very significant financial returns. As an example, diesel fuel tax revenues increased by nearly $1 billion in fiscal year 1994, largely as a result of joint U.S. DOT and Internal Revenue Service and state revenue department efforts. This activity has the potential to add substantial revenues to the trust funds for capital investments and should continue to receive federal support.
Equal Taxation of Highway Use Energy
ARTBA believes all energy sources utilized to power vehicles that use the nation’s highway and bridge system should be taxed to pay for system improvements through the Federal-aid Surface Transportation Program.
These excises should be equivalent to the energy content value of the tax currently levied on gasoline.
Energy Efficient Vehicles
ARTBA encourages the development and use of more energy efficient highway vehicles.
We caution, however, that there is a direct relationship between fuel efficiency and highway user fee collections.
As the nation’s highway vehicle fleet becomes more energy efficient, highway user fees must be appropriately adjusted upward to ensure that the revenue stream necessary for highway and bridge improvements is not compromised.
Highway Funding Sanctions
ARTBA opposes the concept of linking the availability of federal highway funding to state and local government compliance with federal mandates of any sort.
Minimum Allocation to States
ARTBA believes the federal government should guarantee that each state will receive back in the form of federal highway funding at least 95 percent of the highway user fee revenue that it sends to the federal government, in accordance with current law.
Capital Budgeting and Budgetary Treatment of Highway Trust Fund
ARTBA urges the federal government to adopt a capital budget that differentiates between federal capital investments in public infrastructure and the general day-to-day operating expenses of government. This accounting procedure is used by most state governments and many other nations. Such an action would help ensure that highway user revenue is not impounded and that artificial spending ceilings are not placed on the user-supported “pay-as-you-go” federal highway program. In the least, since the highway program is self-sustaining and is not responsible for deficit spending, it should be separated from the federal unified budget and exempted from any general spending caps or other “across-the-board” deficit reduction measures enacted by Congress or the Executive Branch.
ISTEA of 1991 allows the use of federal funds in the development of privately-owned toll facilities. TEA-21 established a pilot program under which tolls may be collected on three separate interstate highways (in different states) for reconstructing or rehabilitating a highway that could not otherwise be improved. SAFETEA-LU retained these programs and created two new opportunities for toll financing to be used on and off the Interstate System. ARTBA believes state transportation agencies should also be permitted to use federal funds to develop new toll highways and have maximum flexibility to design and implement toll-financing solutions.
ARTBA also believes:
- The U.S. Secretary of Transportation should be granted the authority to allow the imposition of tolls on existing federal-aid highways that have unusually high maintenance, construction or reconstruction costs. The purpose of this action would be to allow states to use the toll revenue realized to repay bonds issued to finance these improvements.
- When federal funds are used to finance the acquisition, construction, or reconstruction of a new or existing toll facility, states should be under no obligation to repay the federal funds so used, or to remove the toll once the non-federal costs have been recovered.
- Toll revenue generated in excess of the amount necessary to operate and maintain a facility should only be used for transportation-related purposes.
- Privately operated toll highways may be a viable means of meeting increased traffic demands in some areas.
Alternate Financing Methods
ARTBA believes the imposition of motor fuel excises at the federal, state and local levels should continue to serve as the primary funding mechanism for highway and bridge improvement programs. Recognizing the enormous cost associated with meeting highway capital needs, however, other “non-traditional” funding mechanisms should be considered for use when appropriate to supplement motor fuels excise revenue. These could include, although are not limited to, expanded use of toll highways and bridges, public-private ventures, creation of other financing mechanisms like infrastructure banks and revolving loan funds, and bond financing for capacity enhancing surface transportation infrastructure projects. These mechanisms should not be advanced for the purpose of reducing existing levels of highway user taxes, avoiding necessary increases in highway user fees, or diverting highway user generated revenue to non-highway uses.
While public financing is ARTBA’s preferred method of funding transportation infrastructure improvements and operation, we recognize that private investment is also necessary if the nation is to meet its transportation capital needs. ARTBA believes the public interest can be served well through public-private partnerships in transportation development. ARTBA further believes that public-private partnerships should be structured so that each sector provides what it can most effectively contribute. Such recognition of expertise should maximize project success and protect all applicable public interests.
In support of these pursuits, we recommend:
- Federal and state transportation agencies should be encouraged to develop and fund proposals for using a public-private partnership approach to construction, improving and operating highway transportation projects when public funding is inadequate or not available for such projects.
- When federal or other public funding is involved, public-private venture projects should be constructed in cooperation with applicable federal and state transportation agencies and in accordance with all relevant laws, including those applicable to competitive bidding for construction contracts.
- Federal funds should be permitted to be used as loans or matching funds for all public-private partnership transportation projects with a dedicated revenue source.
- Appropriate types of tax incentives, such as arbitrage relief, public benefit bonds (which would be suitable investments for 401(k) and other employee benefit plans), private activity bonds, and volume cap flexibility should be considered to facilitate the private financing of private and public-private federal-aid transportation infrastructure projects.
Proposals have been suggested that would establish federal and/or state revolving loan structures, or so-called “Infrastructure Banks,” to leverage funding for capital investment. While ARTBA encourages the development of innovative financing mechanisms as additive funding sources for transportation infrastructure investment, given the existing shortfall in highway and bridge capital investment relative to identified needs, such “banks” or loan programs should not utilize Highway Trust Fund revenues to pay for non-highway programs or investments.
State participation in such programs should be optional. States must also be assured that non-participation will not adversely affect their federal highway apportionment and that total “traditional” federal highway program funding is not reduced to accommodate such financial structures.
Highway User Fee Exemptions
To assure equity in taxation and maximize receipts to transportation trust funds so that highway capital needs can be met, ARTBA urges all levels of government to eliminate exemptions from the motor fuel excise and other highway user fees. Along these lines, non-transportation policy objectives should be pursued through federal General Funds. Limited Highway Trust Fund revenues should be preserved for and fully invested in transportation improvements.
Federal-Aid Highway Program Issues
The Role of the Federal Government
ARTBA believes the federal government has a major role to play in the development and maintenance of an efficient national highway and bridge network for the following reasons:
- The vast majority of Americans and U.S. businesses choose to use motor vehicles as their preferred means of transportation.
- The U.S. Constitution empowers the Congress to regulate commerce among the states and with other nations.
- A national, coordinated system of well-maintained highways and bridges with intermodal linkages must exist in support of interstate commerce and commercial export.
- The Constitution also requires the federal government to provide for the national defense. To meet this responsibility, the federal government should ensure that efficient transportation facilities are available to expedite emergency military and industrial mobilizations and support civil defense needs and activities.
- The efficient movement of people and commercial goods across state lines is key to sustaining a strong national economy and maintaining a high quality of life for all Americans..
- Highway safety is a major national public health issue.
For these reasons, ARTBA believes the federal role should include adequate provision of financial, technical and research assistance to the states for highways and bridges. Working in full cooperation with the states, the federal government should also assume the lead role in developing and promoting uniform standards and guidelines for highway and bridge design, maintenance and operations. Consistent and predictable federal funding is essential to operating orderly and cost-effective state highway improvement programs.
The Role of State and Local Governments
State and local governments are the owners and managers of the nation’s highway and bridge network. ARTBA believes:
- States should be responsible for project planning, management, and environmental analysis and should assume partial responsibility for financing development of a uniform, nationally coordinated highway system.
- Once a federally-assisted highway or bridge has been constructed, states should have lead responsibility for maintaining them in good, safe condition.
- Highway durability and safety should be top priorities for the states.
In pursuit of these goals, states should make every effort to incorporate state-of-the-art design standards and products in their highway and bridge plans.
Joint Federal-State-Local Responsibilities
The highway improvement program must operate as a true partnership between the federal, state and local governments to best serve national interests and user/financial supporters. All levels of government must diligently monitor transportation improvement needs and continue to dedicate motor fuel excise revenue to highway improvements.
Maintenance of Effort
A key component of financing highway and bridge improvements is the partnership between federal, state and local governments to develop and maintain the nation’s surface transportation network. A commitment to appropriate transportation investment among all parties is critical. To ensure increased federal highway and bridge investment results in more total funds for transportation improvements, a “maintenance of effort” provision should be enacted that makes increased apportioned federal funds contingent on individual state highway investments being continued at least at their prior year levels.
Competitive Bidding System
The practice of awarding highway construction contracts to the lowest responsible bidder in open competition with other interested and eligible firms has helped ensure integrity in the bidding process. It has also saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. ARTBA staunchly supports the free enterprise system of open competitive bidding for highway projects.
“Union-Only” Labor Agreements
A provision should be added to federal law that prohibits the use of union-only project agreements on federal-aid highway projects. Such agreements are counter to the free enterprise system of open competitive bidding.
ARTBA supports reform of the Davis-Bacon Act. This law requires the payment of local “prevailing wages” on federal-aid transportation projects and addresses other labor-related issues. ARTBA believes Davis-Bacon reform should include, but not be limited to:
- Full implementation of the helper regulations; changing the Act’s payroll reporting requirements from weekly to monthly; and
- Exempting from the Act’s requirements employees of off-site batch plants and suppliers, and truck drivers who spend only an incidental percentage of their time at the work site in the course of delivering materials from off-site locations.
- The threshold for application of the Act should be $500,000.
To assure state-of-the-art, high quality projects, contracts for professional services such as transportation planning, design and construction management, should be procured by Qualifications Based Selection procedures. Contracts for these services should be based on salaries and overhead in accordance with Title 48 (Federal Acquisition Regulations), Sec.15.901 (c).
Application of FARS to Professional Services Contracts
To assure equitable compensation and fair competition, federal surface transportation law should require:
(a) the use of Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) cost principles in audits conducted on engineering and design service contracts or subcontracts “funded in whole or in part” with federal-aid highway or transit program funds;
(b) that recipients of federal funds accept the results of pre-award audits that meet the following criteria-were established in accordance with FAR cost principles; were conducted within one year of the current contract negotiations; and were not under dispute.
Further, compensation for these contracts should be determined on the basis of FAR cost principles without modification or limitation.
ARTBA believes that building safety into the highway system should be a top priority of transportation policy makers, planners and appropriators at all levels of government. More than 35,000 people were killed in motor vehicle accidents on U.S. roads during 2015. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, highway crashes cost $242 billion in lost economic activity annually and an additional $594 billion due to the loss of life and decreased quality of life due to injuries. Clearly, highway safety should be a paramount public health interest.
The good news is that experience has proved that emphasizing safety features in the design, construction, reconstruction and operation of highway facilities does save lives. The U.S. highway fatality rate has dropped 75 percent since 1970, from 4.5 per hundred million vehicle miles traveled, to 1.08 in 2014, the lowest ever. The rate, however, rose slightly to 1.12 per hundred VMT in 2015.
ARTBA strongly encourages and supports:
- The continuation of the Highway Safety Improvement Program and full dedication of funds from this program to infrastructure safety activities, including devices and equipment that provide positive separation of construction site workers from nearby traffic;
- Federal financial support for driver education programs from outside the Highway Trust Fund;
- Requirements that mandate any reconstruction project should contain, as a component, restoration of safety features to enhance the level of safety performance.
Highway reconstruction is increasingly being done under traffic conditions. The safety of industry employees and motorists in these construction work zones is of special concern to ARTBA. In any highway construction site, effective traffic control plans should be implemented, traffic control devices and other appurtenances should be properly maintained. ARTBA supports federal encouragement of training, education and voluntary certification programs for personnel responsible for traffic control at highway construction sites.
Experience has shown that public awareness programs aimed at motorists can help to reduce the number of accidents in these work sites. ARTBA encourages the U.S. DOT and all state transportation departments to initiate and/or continue these programs.
ARTBA’s highway safety policy is more fully developed in the Intermodal Transportation Safety Policy section.
Support of Unit Pricing
To help avoid contractual misunderstandings, to the extent possible, bid proposals for Federal-aid surface transportation contracts should be required to use unit pricing. This would give the contractor a much better understanding of the actual work and project-related activities (i.e., lead health and safety programs) that he or she is being asked to perform. It would also serve to enhance work zone safety activities.
The American highway and bridge network stands as testament to the high quality construction and design work of ARTBA members. Most U.S. highways and bridges provide service well beyond their anticipated design life and traffic usage. We recognize, however, that the pursuit of quality and an improved highway product is never ending. ARTBA supports the goals of the “National Highway Quality Initiative,” which it helped develop in 1992 in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and other interested national organizations.
Policy makers and the public must recognize that highway durability and the quality of highway construction, while certainly linked, are not necessarily synonymous. Highway durability is directly related to public owner agency decisions regarding pavement design life, materials specifications, allowable vehicle weights and routine maintenance. Most of these decisions are directly related to the level of public investment government is willing to make in a highway project both initially and over time.
ARTBA believes highway users are willing to pay more to build increased durability into our roads and to ensure routine preventative maintenance because such investments will save tax dollars over the long term. We encourage state and local governments to make durability a top priority as they develop highway project specifications.
Similarly, we encourage the federal government to provide the states with the financial resources necessary to build a 40- to 50-year design life into the NHS as routes on it that have reached the end of their original design life are reconstructed.
The Interstate Highway Program
Initial construction of the 48,053-mile Interstate Highway System, initiated in 1956, is virtually completed. The federal focus should now turn to maintaining this multi-billion dollar investment that is a keystone of the U.S. economy and provides all Americans with unparalleled mobility.
The Interstate System carries traffic loads far exceeding those projected when the system was originally planned almost four decades ago. And much of the system has exceeded its original 25-year design life and needs very significant repair and rehabilitation.
According to the U.S. DOT’s 2015 report to Congress on the condition and investment requirements of the nation’s highway and bridge network, only 62.5 percent of VMT on urban Interstate highways and 78.6 percent of VMT on rural Interstate highways occurs on pavement rated in good condition. The same report says that 27.6 percent of the bridges of the urban Interstate System and 15.7 percent of the rural Interstate bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete and in need of repair or replacement.
The Interstate System is the central highway network within the 222,743-mile NHS that became law in November 1995.
ARTBA believes a national financial commitment should be made now to dramatically upgrade pavement durability on the Interstate Highway System to enhance serviceability and save tax dollars over the long term. We suggest that a systematic repair, replacement, rehabilitation and reconstruction program be initiated by 2025, with the goal of replacing existing pavement on the entire Interstate System with pavements that have a 40- to 50-year design life.
Several Western European nations have demonstrated that such durability can be achieved with adequate public investment in materials and routine maintenance using U.S.-derived construction and design techniques and equipment. ARTBA supports an increase in federal highway user fees for this purpose.
Traffic congestion on the urban portions of the Interstate System is having an increasingly negative effect on the movement of commercial goods. It also is a contributing factor in motor vehicle-related air pollution. This congestion is the result of an ever increasing U.S. driving population and significant changes in the American workplace that have occurred since the Interstate Highway System was originally planned (increased number of women in the work force, growth in service and light manufacturing industries, “just-in-time” delivery and warehousing, etc.). Transportation and air quality planners should give very serious consideration to building capacity improvements to the Interstate System in these areas as part of a joint economic/clean air strategy.
National Highway System
The 222,743-mile NHS is critical to the national economy, defense and American quality of life.
Although it represents only 5.4 percent of the nation’s highway mileage, the NHS handles 54.7 percent of the nation’s highway traffic. The NHS helps focus future federal highway funding on international and Interstate routes, as well as on roads that serve major population centers, ports, airports, and international border crossings.
Specifically, the NHS includes the 48,053-mile Interstate Highway System, many existing major urban and rural arterials, the 15,000 mile strategic defense highway network, and strategic intermodal highway connectors. The NHS reflects the major demographic and travel changes that have occurred in this country since the designation of the Interstate Highway System nearly 60 years ago.
Much of the NHS is in need of major repair or replacement. According to the U. S. DOT’s 2015 Conditions and Performance Report, a $51.7 billion investment in constant 2012 dollars per year over 20 years is needed just to maintain 2012 highway and bridge conditions on the NHS. Of that amount, $24.1 billion in constant 2012 dollars is attributed to its Interstate highway portion. To improve NHS conditions, U. S. DOT says an annual investment of $72.9 billion in constant 2012 dollars over 20 years is necessary.
ARTBA urges Congress to ensure that the NHS is adequately funded to meet the capital needs identified by the U.S. DOT. ARTBA supports an increase in the federal motor fuels excise for this purpose. Assuring adequate funding to maintain the NHS as a first-class transportation network should be a priority of surface transportation program reauthorization legislation.
The U.S. DOT’s 2015 report to Congress on the condition and investment requirements of the nation’s highways and bridges shows that 25.0 percent of the 615,000 bridges in the United States are either structurally or functionally deficient. The report says $123.1 billion is required to eliminate the backlog of bridge deficiencies through replacement, rehabilitation or major widening.
ARTBA encourages Congress to significantly increase federal funding for bridge repair and replacement and continue discretionary funding for high-cost bridge projects. Proper investment should be made on individual projects to ensure that the highest quality materials and state-of-the-art technologies are used on federal-aid bridges.
ARTBA believes the federal government should establish uniform bridge inspection standards so that bridge funding priorities can be established.
The choice between whether to rehabilitate or replace a structurally deficient bridge should be based on careful inspections and detailed cost comparisons that consider safety, future maintenance, environmental and social impact, and operational costs. Such studies, design services and bridge inspections should utilize professionally qualified engineers.
We also encourage the federal government to take the lead in developing and coordinating a national information system that would catalogue and share technical experiences and expertise in the areas of bridge repair and rehabilitation.
Actions or strategies that prevent, delay or reduce deterioration of bridges or bridge elements, restore the function of existing bridges, keep bridges in good condition and extend their life. Preservation actions may be preventive or condition-driven.
Non-NHS Highways and Bridges
While the focus of the federal program should be providing adequate resources to maintain a first-class NHS, ARTBA also supports a strong federal commitment to helping meet non-NHS highway and bridge needs.
Surface Transportation Program
ISTEA of 1991 created the Surface Transportation Program (STP) to serve as the funding mechanism for non NHS routes that were previously on the federal-aid Primary, Secondary and Urban systems. Greater financial support for these highways is necessary to meet identified capital needs. Upgrading these routes must remain a priority to help reduce urban congestion and improve rural mobility. The FAST Act of 2015 renamed this program the Surface Transportation Block Grant Program and continued the trend of post 1991 program reauthorizations of increasing state flexibility in the use of these funds.
ARTBA believes it is essential that highway transportation be integrated with other transportation modes to serve the nation’s defense, enhance its competitiveness in world markets, and improve mobility for all Americans.
We support and encourage efforts to improve highway access to ports, airports, rail lines and terminals.
Flexibility in Use of Federal Highway Funds
ARTBA believes state and local governments should be given the flexibility to allocate their share of federal funding within the framework of the Federal-aid Highway Program as they see fit, providing that national highway needs within their state are met. Providing flexibility to transfer highway program funds to non-highway activities, however, raises concern.
Shifting limited highway funds to other purposes delays needed highway and bridge capital improvements. With the U.S. DOT reporting $836 billion in backlogged highway and bridge investment needs, Highway Trust Fund Highway Account dollars should be earmarked exclusively for highway and bridge improvements.
State and Local Decision-Making Authority
Congress has given state transportation departments and metropolitan planning organizations (MPO’s) broad authority and responsibility for planning, prioritizing and developing highway and bridge projects that qualify for federal aid. In carrying out these responsibilities, it is essential that states continue to be allowed to streamline federal program requirements, particularly in the area of project oversight where certification is required.
Patented and Proprietary Products
Deploying innovation, technology and process improvements to deliver transportation projects in a safer, less costly, and faster manner has been a major U.S. Department of Transportation priority for more than 20 years. In contrast to these well intentioned goal, a decades-old regulation (23 CFR 635.411) prohibiting the expenditure of federal highway funds on proprietary products remains a fixture of Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) policy. Since many new technologies — particularly those that mark a significant advance in safety, quality, performance, or durability — incorporate intellectual property protected by patents or proprietary processes, 23 CFR 635.411 inevitably impedes the development and deployment of those same innovations that various Congressional and USDOT/FHWA initiatives are intended to foster.
While the regulation does provide several avenues for limited exceptions to the general prohibition, a number of logistical and human factors stemming from this regulation continue to unnecessarily obstruct product innovations that could enhance the safety and efficiency of the U.S. surface transportation network. As such, this regulation should be repealed or dramatically reformed to ensure the latest technological and operational advances are deployed to improve public safety, enhance durability and preserve limited financial resources in the delivery of highway and bridge projects.
The Planning and Project Selection Processes
ISTEA created new responsibilities in the areas of project selection and funding. Implementation has affected significant shifts in the decision-making roles of state and local governments. Congress should examine where the process has worked and where difficulties have been encountered and make appropriate adjustments.
Modification of Financial Constraint Provisions
Federal requirements that strictly limit state Transportation Improvement Plans (TIPs) and State Transportation Implementation Plans (STIPs) to current resources should be modified to allow for the delay or cancellation of programmed projects. States and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) should be permitted a reasonable level of over-programming to assure that all available federal funding is utilized. ARTBA also believes that constraining MPO plans to current resources is inappropriate and counterproductive. MPO plans should define workable solutions to projected needs and be used to define funding needs, regardless of current revenues.
ARTBA supports efforts to reduce regulatory delay in the surface transportation project review and approval process. ARTBA has championed measures aimed at streamlining the process that maintain existing environmental protections in multiple surface transportation reauthorization bills. While these efforts have contributed to positive changes in the process, such as time limits on specific regulatory decisions and deadlines for filling lawsuits opposing projects, there is still much work to be done. Specific examples where further progress can be made include:
- Continuing to strengthen the United States Department of Transportation’s role as “lead agency” on transportation projects;
- Further reducing the amount of time required for environmental impact statements required for large-scale, multi-year projects; and
- Protecting needed transportation improvement projects from frivolous lawsuits.
Also ARTBA opposes increased regulatory burdens in other areas which could hinder the progress made in reducing delay in the transportation review and approval process.
ARTBA believes the partnering process should be implemented on all highway projects-from conception through construction. It is essential that partnering includes the project’s design engineers, contractor, subcontractors, and public owner.
The 2012 Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century—or MAP-21—surface transportation program reauthorization law established a comprehensive performance management process designed to direct federal highway funds to specific national goals. ARTBA supports this important reform and believes this process should—as directed by MAP-21—focus on outcomes related to the physical conditions and system performance of the National Highway System as opposed to externalities such as greenhouse gas emissions, livability and land-use planning. System performance standards should: reflect the causes and consequences of traffic congestion; be data driven; incorporate the economic costs of congestion; reflect the impact of infrastructure conditions on roadway safety; and be integrated with national freight policy. Furthermore, any pavement condition standards should attempt to balance both pavement smoothness and an assessment of subsurface conditions and foundations.
Furthermore, given the primacy of safety in the list of national goals in Section 150 (b), the minimum conditions for the Interstate System should not be limited to pavement conditions, but should include safety measures, including maintenance of shoulders and right of way, pavement markings, guardrails, signage and other elements affecting safe travel.
Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program
The goals of the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program should be to attract certifiable DBE firms, to enable and assist them to grow and develop within the safe harbor of the DBE program, and to graduate them into the broader, unsheltered market as financially viable and technically proficient construction companies. The DBE program should use the rate at which DBE firms successfully graduate into the unsheltered construction market as its primary metric.
The periodic re-justification for the compelling need for DBE programs does not justify the lack of a time limit on how long a DBE firm may remain certified. Longevity in the program is a function of either a failure to “narrowly tailor” the program or the lack of business development and technical assistance or both.
Long-standing programmatic issues should be fixed. These include how goals should be set, over concentration and reverse discrimination within the meaning of 49 CFR §26.7(a), the meaning of “unreasonably high price” and “commercially useful function,” making “good faith effort” less subjective, making certification databases user friendly, and measuring and reporting DBE capacity.
ARTBA opposes mandatory hiring preferences – such as those based on residence or income level – for federal-aid highway and transit projects. These mandates from contracting agencies can compromise contractors’ efficiency and safety in building these projects, through the hiring of workers who are not integral to the project or are inadequately trained and experienced, especially in safety procedures. This can lead to displacement of existing employees and cost increases as contractors take on the risk of inexperienced or superfluous labor.
As the steward of the federal-aid highway and transit programs, the U.S. Department of Transportation should pursue policies that maximize competition for these projects. Accordingly, the department should prohibit use of these hiring mandates, as was its long-standing policy before 2015. This will also ensure that local, sometimes inflammatory political priorities do not have an outsized effect on federal-aid project funding and delivery.
On many projects around the country, contractors have successfully worked with public agencies to conduct voluntary, targeted hiring programs. That is the preferred approach.
ARTBA supports the inclusion of incentive/disincentive clauses in highway construction contracts. This practice rewards contractors who utilize good management practices and innovative techniques and technologies to deliver contracted work prior to deadline. It also reduces inconvenience to the highway user caused by construction activity.
Warranting and Guaranteeing Highway Work
ARTBA believes quality construction is essential to the success and credibility of the U.S. highway program. ARTBA also believes that the nation’s highway and bridge network stands testament to the high quality of the industry’s craftsmanship relative to the level of public investment in the program (See “Highway Quality” policy statement). Policy makers must understand, however, that the Federal-aid Highway System is owned and operated by public agencies on behalf of the taxpayer.
Final payment to a contractor for work conducted is not made until the public owner agency has inspected and certified that the project has been built to the specifications that it set forth. Further, highway contractors do not have control over the myriad elements that affect the durability of a highway project (i.e., level of public investment made, initially and in routine maintenance; specification of design and materials that must be used in construction; traffic volume and allowable weights; etc.). For these reasons, ARTBA believes it is unreasonable for government to require a contractor to warrant or guarantee a highway project and will oppose such initiatives.
Performance-Based Prequalification for Contractors
ARTBA opposes contractor ratings systems, such as the one implemented by the New Mexico Department of Transportation in 2016, which can alter the procurement process by changing bid prices. The New Mexico program includes ratings metrics that are subjective, and may also dissuade contractors from pursuing legitimate claims because it may harm their future ratings and negatively affect their bids. In contrast, the low-bid contracting system should be completely objective and transparent, without the uncertainties of a New Mexico-style program.
Privatization of Highway/Bridge Maintenance
To maximize the federal investment, Federally-aided highways and bridges must be adequately maintained. Experience has shown that contracting out highway and bridge maintenance activities to private-sector firms can save tax dollars and improve efficiency. Surface transportation law should encourage greater use of contracting out for the maintenance of these structures.
Research and Development
Every effort must be made to ensure that highway users receive maximum benefit from every dollar invested in highway capital improvements. To help achieve this goal, greater emphasis must be placed on public and private highway research and development programs and technology transfer activities that can bring new products, techniques and ideas quickly into the field. In support of these goals, ARTBA urges:
- Expanded federal support and involvement in highway-related research, particularly in the areas of safety, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) and other advanced technology solutions, and pavement durability;
- Continued federal support for the Local Technical Assistance Program, which serves highway technology transfer centers across the nation, and university transportation centers that facilitate solutions to transportation challenges;
- Implementation, where appropriate and practical, of products and techniques developed by the Strategic Highway Research Program; and
- Federal government encouragement through special tax incentives and other means of private sector research and development projects that have the potential to improve the quality, durability, safety and operation of our highways and bridges.
Federal Highway Program Accountability and Transparency
In the past, the main requirement for obligating federal funds for a project was the project’s conformity to the requirements of the program providing the funds. There was no requirement for the recipient of funds to justify the project or provide information about how the project achieves national goals or expected benefits, other than that the project be part of the state’s or Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPO) long-range transportation plan and be on the STIP or TIP. As a result, the public received little information that could be used to evaluate the benefits received from the motor fuel and other taxes paid into the federal Highway Trust Fund.
The U.S. Department of Transportation should replicate for the core highway and public transportation programs the commitment it applied to telling the American public how it was benefiting from transportation funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The department has sufficient project data that this goal can be achieved without imposing any new state reporting requirements. The more information taxpayers have on the purposes and benefits of highway and bridge and transit improvement projects, the better will be their ability to evaluate these programs. The model for this should be the format used by the Department to report on the obligation and use of highway and public transportation funds provided under the stimulus bill, but expanded to include information on the goal or goals each project is intended to achieve and what the project did achieve when completed.
Federal surface transportation law should encourage, but not mandate, the use of recycled materials in federal-aid highway projects when it is economical and technologically feasible and applied research has provided adequate assurance that human health, safety, the environment and pavement quality are not compromised. Design criteria should not be lowered to allow the use of recycled materials.
Promotion of Innovative Technologies and Materials Testing
To accelerate the introduction of better materials and more efficient designs, equipment and technologies into transportation development, states should be given the latitude to test new and innovative technologies on Federal-aid highway projects without prior approval from the FHWA.
The accommodation of heavy truck traffic results in greater costs to maintain existing facilities and the need to provide increased structural strength on new and rehabilitated roads and bridges. There is a need to complete the necessary research on effective methods to reduce the damaging effect of heavy truck traffic on the highway system and to better utilize the greater capacity of our modern highways and bridges.
Use of Highway Right-of-Way
ARTBA encourages the use of highway right-of-way for public transportation purposes as long as such use does not limit highway use.
ARTBA supports and encourages initiatives that will improve highway infrastructure along the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders.
Addressing Traffic Diversity
Highways must be designed and constructed in ways that assure the maximum safety and efficiency possible for all highway users, recognizing the vast differences that exist in the size and weight of motor vehicles that must share the road. Provisions must also be made on roads and streets for pedestrians, bicycles, mopeds and motorcycles, buses and other high-occupancy vehicles.
It has been suggested by some that a “pay-for-performance” approach be used in contracts for Federal-aid highway work. The concept seeks to tie payment to contractors for work already performed to specification to, among other things, the durability over time of highway pavements-something contractors have little control over. (See ARTBA “Highway Quality” policy statement for extended discussion of this situation.) ARTBA believes this concept would inject subjective judgments into the open competitive bidding process and cause contractors serious financial problems. For these reasons, we oppose “pay-for-performance” contracts.
Require Payment of Prejudgment Interest
When a contractual claim on a federal-aid surface transportation project is found in favor of the private-sector architect, engineer, or contractor, the owner agency should be required to pay them prejudgment interest on damages, or otherwise provide an equitable adjustment for costs incurred as a result of the claim or change order.
Require Owner Agencies to Pay Damages for Delays
Currently, owner agencies are permitted to charge contractors for engineering costs associated with Federal-aid surface transportation project delays caused by the contractor. Federal law should require owner agencies to compensate contractors for costs associated with project delays caused by owner decisions or inaction. These costs include those associated with idle labor and equipment.
Addressing Latent Defects
Highway contractors are paid for work that has been certified by the government owner agency to have met contractual project specifications. Contractors should not be held responsible or financially liable for subsequent problems or latent defects that could be caused by many reasons beyond their control, i.e. inadequate owner agency design or materials specifications; weather; unanticipated traffic volume and loads; unenforced truck weight restrictions. ARTBA opposes the use of the latent defect clause by an owner agency that extends potential liability beyond state statutes of limitations, state statutes of repose, or warranty provisions as applicable.
Hours of Service
ARTBA believes construction vehicle drivers should be exempt from the hours of service requirements if they operate their vehicles within 100 miles of their home base.
U.S. DOT Training Requirements
ARTBA believes the U.S. DOT mandated training requirements create an undue hardship on the construction industry and should be repealed.
Owner Controlled Insurance Programs
The management of a construction company and work site is ultimately responsible for placing its employees in as safe an environment as possible. Owner controlled insurance programs (OCIPs), however, remove the contractors from the insurance claims process and hinder the direct interaction between contractors and injured employee, thereby impeding the claims process. ARTBA opposes the use of OCIPs on transportation construction projects, since such policies are not in the best interests of the contractor, the employees, the public owner, or the individual citizen.
The transportation construction industry is continuously looking for new and better ways to achieve its objective of delivering a high caliber product that meets the nation’s transportation infrastructure needs. Inherent in this process is the desire to provide value without sacrificing service or quality. The low bid system of procurement has historically succeeded in achieving these objectives in a competitive, open, cost-effective, efficient and fair manner. In order to expedite project delivery, while still achieving the highest quality of transportation projects, many have implemented alternate delivery methods. These alternate methods range from procurement to financing to construction practices.
ARTBA continues to support and promote the low bid procurement process as the most favored project delivery system for most projects, which includes awarding professional services contracts through the qualification-based selection process, and construction contracts to the lowest responsible bidder. There may be well-defined projects that are suited for alternative procurement methods, offering the industry the opportunity to implement flexibility in project delivery methods.
Such projects might include the need for unusual and/or innovative financing arrangements, certainty in pricing and/or scheduling, a need to address specific technical challenges, or other special circumstances. Public owners should carefully consider the use of the appropriate delivery system, making sure that project’s needs are consistent with the delivery system being utilized. The estimated contract amount of a project should not be the determining factor of whether or not a project is suited for design-build or other alternate procurement methods.
Public owners should continue to make every effort to let projects through the traditional low bid system. ARTBA is firmly dedicated to advocating reforms that will shorten the project delivery time under the traditional low bid system.
The use of the alternate procurement methods by public owners should not be mandated by the federal government; state and local authorities should be allowed maximum flexibility in determining their own procurement methods. If public owners opt to use alternate procurement methods, they should consider the following elements as part of their procurement process:
A two-step procurement system where bidders on a project are qualified through a preliminary screening process, whether it be a pre-qualification process, a surety bond-based system, or an arrangement whereby a bidder demonstrates understanding of the technical requirements of the project, or any combination thereof. Such a system should be based solely on well-defined, objective, measurable criteria relevant to the project’s size, value, duration, technical features and complexity. The pre-qualification criteria and how the various requirements will be evaluated and what weight they will have in the final determination of the qualification shall unambiguously be communicated to the proposer/bidder in advance of bid preparation and shall be tailored to encourage participation by all qualified contractors and designers.
Because the use of the alternate procurement method requires more resources in the preparation of the proposal/bid than the traditional low bid system, public owners should pay a fee to each unsuccessful but responsive and competitive proposer/bidder for their preparation work. This fee should be based on the size of the project and the complexity of the proposal/bid process. This should not necessarily imply that the owner will then “own” any ideas, concepts or innovations that the team has developed.
The bid selection process should be open and objective, well defined, on the public record and as isolated from political influence as possible. The bid price should be the most significant factor in determining the final bid selection. There also should be a process whereby, upon request of any unsuccessful bidder, the project owner will provide detailed information as to that bidder’s scoring against the criteria.
ARTBA supports a common sense interpretation of the Buy America rule so that the burden of compliance on transportation construction contractors does not lead to the likelihood of project cost increases and delays. Therefore, ARTBA supports efforts by the FHWA, the Federal Transit Administration and other federal transportation agencies to develop nationwide waivers that would exempt commercially available off-the-shelf products due to the burden of traceability of component materials in these products and their de minimis financial impact to total project value. At the same time, ARTBA supports Buy America protection for a core list of covered materials that are permanently incorporated into projects and which have been regularly enumerated by FHWA.
Ideally, compliance with Buy America begins with a design that has effectively vetted the specified materials to confirm that the iron and steel materials and manufactured products are produced and available in the United States. ARTBA supports FHWA and FTA policy modifications that would require designers and specifiers of transportation projects to assess the availability of materials to be incorporated into the project and make all reasonable efforts to use available Buy America qualified materials as the basis of design.
(Revised September 2017)