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When we think of America’s transportation system we often think of the roads in our own communities, the interstate highway system, and the trains, buses, and ferries we ride on daily.  But it is much more than our individual mode of travel or our local road that makes up this network.  There are approximately 4 million miles of roads, 117,000 miles of rail, 600,000 bridges, 12,000 miles of commercially navigable waterways, 11,000 miles of transit (including more than 5,000 miles of rail transit), more than 3,000 transit rail stations, 300 ports, and 19,000 airports that permit us to move about the United States.  Much of that infrastructure was built decades ago and the repair and maintenance of that system is falling behind. 

Vehicle travel on America’s highways increased by 37% from 1990 to 2010 while new road mileage increased by 4% (TRIP).  Inadequate roadways that result in increased congestion cost motorists $121 billion in 2011 in wasted time and fuel.  That amounts to $818 per driver (Urban Mobility Report). 

Investments in our transportation infrastructure results in job creation.  For every $1 billion in federal investment in transportation infrastructure, an estimated 27,800 to 34,800 jobs are created (Department of Transportation, 2008).

A modern transportation system will provide more reliability for goods and people to reach their destinations, boost our nation’s economic competitiveness and enhance the quality of life for all Americans.

Americans households spend 9.8% of their budgets on transportation (National Transportation Statistics, U.S. DOT 2014).
The United States is falling behind other countries when it comes to infrastructure investments.  For example, Canada spends 4% of its GDP on transportation investment and maintenance and China spends 9%.  The U.S. spends only 1.7%.

Building America’s Future Educational Fund believes that every American, elected official, and business must care about the future of our transportation network.
As an American, these are your roads, your highways, your rail and transit systems, and you deserve the right to enjoy them.  As elected officials, it is our duty to ensure the resources and investments are made wisely, efficiently, and transparently.
We will continue to educate those charged with maintaining and building our national transportation system about the benefits to America’s economic competiveness, job growth, and goods and people movement when we make these smart investments.


According to the 2011-2015 National Plan of Integrated Airports Systems compiled by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), there are over 19,700 airports in the United States.   The FAA has projected that the number of annual airline passengers will grow from 732 million in 2012 to 1.2 billion in 2022. However, air traffic delays, an aged air traffic control system, and increasing costs are threatening to paralyze air travel.  By 2025, 27 airports in 15 metropolitan areas will have insufficient capacity (FAA).

The infrastructure research firm Cambridge Systematics found that within the next decade, 25 of the nation’s top 30 airports will suffer the same congestion as the day before Thanksgiving at least two days each week.  In other words, the busiest travel day of the year will be what passengers visiting many of America’s top destinations will experience every day.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the U.S. aviation system received a grade of ‘D’ in 2013 – and our outdated air traffic control system played a large role in the poor grade. It is in dire need of modernization as we are operating with a system based on World War II era technology.  

We must move more rapidly to deploy “NextGen,” which is an umbrella term for the ongoing, wide-ranging transformation of the National Airspace System. At its most basic level, NextGen represents an evolution from a ground-based system of air traffic control to a satellite-based system of air traffic management. This evolution is vital to meeting future demand and to avoiding gridlock in the sky and at our nation’s airports.

NextGen will open America’s skies to continued growth and increased safety while reducing aviation’s environmental impact.

When fully implemented, NextGen will allow more aircraft to safely fly closer together on more direct routes, reducing delays and providing unprecedented benefits for the environment and the economy through reductions in carbon emissions, fuel consumption and noise.

A 21st Century transportation system must employ the most cutting edge technologies such as NextGen to ensure the efficient and safe movement of people and goods. 

Highways and Roadways

By 2050, the total U.S. population is projected to reach 420 million, a 50 percent increase over 50 years. This growing society will demand higher levels of goods and services, and will rely on the transportation system to access them, according to the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission.

Inefficiencies in our transportation system are costing billions and the statistics about the current condition of our highways and roads are alarming:

Americans waste 4.2 billion hours and 2.9 billion gallons of fuel a year sitting in traffic – equal to nearly one full work week and three weeks’ worth of gas for every traveler; the total cost of congestion in 2012 was $121 billion or $818 per motorist (Urban Mobility Report).   The national impact of crashes in 2012 was $230 billion (2.3% of GDP) according to TRIP. By way of comparison, Medicare annual costs in 2008 were just over 3% of GDP (The New York City Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan, August 2010).   Fourteen percent of America's major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, 44 percent of major urban highways are congested and 25 percent of bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete (TRIP, 2014).   Congestion and capacity constraints threaten to increase the cost of trade and impede America’s global competitiveness.  Delays in freight movement impose real costs on businesses that reduce productivity, impede our competitiveness and increase prices for consumers.  General Mills estimates that for every one mile per hour reduction in average speed of its trucking shipments below posted speed limits adds $2 million in higher annual costs (U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee’s Blueprint for Investment and Reform, 2009).  According to UPS, if congestion causes each UPS delivery driver to incur 5 minutes of delay, it would cost the company $100 (Testimony before U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, 2011). 

The primary source of funding for federal investments in our highways and mass transit system comes from the Highway Trust Fund.  The Highway Trust Fund was created in 1956 to construct the Interstate Highway System which has grown to 47,000 miles.   Funds deposited into the Highway Trust Fund include excise taxes on motor fuels and truck-related taxes, including taxes on gasoline, diesel fuel, gasohol, and other fuels; truck tires and truck sales; and heavy vehicle use.  In 1983, the Highway Trust Fund was divided into the Highway Account and the Mass Transit Account.  More than 80 percent of the total fund is the Highway Account, including a majority of the fuel taxes as well as all truck-related taxes.  The federal tax on gasoline is 18.4 cents per gallon and has not been raised since 1993. (source:  Because the gas tax is not indexed to inflation it has lost one-third of its purchasing power and is only worth 11.5 cents today (Federal Highway Administration).

To address growing needs, including repair and maintenance of existing assets, more resources will be needed and we must find smarter, more efficient ways to make these investments to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely.

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS)

The scourge of traffic congestion can be found in nearly every city across the nation.  Left unchecked, it will continue to cut into worker productivity, delay deliveries, waste gasoline and add to air pollution.

Access to real-time traffic data whether on the roads, runways or rails empowers drivers with information they can use to avoid a particular travel route or know when the next train or bus is scheduled to arrive at their stop. A faster, more reliable, commute will greatly enhance our quality of life which means less time in traffic, greater productivity and more time at home with family or friends.

Examples of successfully deployed ITS technologies that have assisted in reducing traffic congestion include intelligent traffic signals, electronic tolling, real time traffic navigation systems, active traffic management and incident response systems, ramp metering, high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, and Bus Rapid Transit.

Continued development and deployment of cutting edge technologies to ease our daily commutes and promote greater efficiency and reliability on our transportation systems are critical. Traffic congestion cost motorists $121 billion in 2011 in wasted time and fuel.  That amounts to $818 per driver.  Fuel wasted in congestion reached a total of 2.9 billion gallons – enough to fill the New Orleans Superdome four times (Texas Transportation Institute). In these challenging economic times, those are dollars we cannot afford to waste. Smart investments in ITS will continue to result is higher productivity and better quality of life for all Americans and that is a goal worth achieving.


The journey for much of our nation’s commerce begins or and ends at our ports. On an average day, some 43 million tons of goods valued at $29 billion move on the nation’s interconnected network of ports, roads, rails and inland waterways (U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 2008).  

According to the American Association of Port Authorities, every major U.S. container port is projected to at least double the volume of cargo it was designed to handle by 2020. Some west coast ports will triple in volume and others will even quadruple. We must ensure that these ports operate as efficiently as possible and can handle the projected increase in cargo traffic.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, between now and 2020 the investment needs in the nation’s maritime ports and inland waterways total $30 billion.  Planned expenditures are $14 billion leaving a total investment gap of nearly $16 billion.

Impediments to the efficient movement of goods drive up costs to consumers. Too often outdated infrastructure impedes the efficient flow of goods into and out of our ports. We must also employ innovative ideas and technologies to help reduce congestion at our nation’s ports. Initiatives like the Port of Los Angeles’ PierPass have helped make strides in reducing bottlenecks.  

While our nation has vibrant network of port facilities, we are not doing enough to keep up with our international competitors. Global competitors are leapfrogging past us by investing in world-class ports. In 2013 The World Economic Forum ranked the quality of U.S. port infrastructure at number 12 behind such countries as Finland and Belgium.   China is investing billions and the port of Shanghai now has more container capacity than the top eight U.S. ports combined (American Association of Port Authorities). 

With the increase in supersized vessels, it is more critical than ever that the appropriate resources are devoted to deepening our ports to accommodate these new and larger vessels. By 2030 post-Panamax ships will account for 62% of the capacity of the world’s container fleet (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). Only two ports on the East Coast – Norfolk and Baltimore - are deep enough to accommodate the larger vessels. We must wisely invest in port deepening projects so that America remains competitive with ports like Halifax and Vancouver.


We must move our goods more efficiently to ensure that we remain economically competitive with the rest of the world, grow the U.S. economy, and keep the costs of goods low for every American consumer.  

According to the American Association of Railroads, railroads account for 40 percent of intercity freight volume – more than any other mode of transportation.  However, our freight transportation system was not built for the explosive growth of coast-to-coast shipping and international trade experienced over the past two decades, and our economically vital gateways and corridors – our primary port, road and rail routes for shipping goods in and out of the country – now operate at or over capacity.  Freight bottlenecks and other forms of congestion cost about $200 billion, or 1.6 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product a year (President’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board, 2009).  As freight tonnage is expected to increase 88 percent by 2035 (Federal Railroad Administration, 2009) it is imperative that investments in the nation’s freight rail network keep up with the projected demand.

We must also make investments now to ensure that high speed rail becomes a viable travel option for Americans. By creating a true high speed rail system in economically viable corridors we can reduce dependency on short-route airplane flights that could ease congestion in our airspace and reduce travel delays.   The environmental benefits of taking cars off the road and the likely reduction of short haul flights between cities that are served by a high speed rail line are compelling. According to the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Irvine, the proposed California high speed rail system will require one-fifth the total energy per passenger of a single typical single-occupancy car and one-tenth the energy of a commercial airplane.   The researchers have also forecasted a carbon dioxide emissions reduction of nearly half a billion pounds by the year 2035.

We must work to ensure that freight and people can move across the land at higher speeds while maintaining safety and reliability.


When people in urban and rural areas need to commute to their jobs, schools, doctors, or just to see their families, millions of them use public transportation whether it is a train, bus, ferry or some other form of mass transit.  In fact, people board public transportation 35 million times each weekday (American Public Transportation Association). Using public transit helps reduce traffic, greenhouse gas emissions, and America’s dependence on foreign oil.  

The statistics regarding transit ridership are impressive. According to the American Public Transportation Association:

  • Public transportation ridership grew 37.2 percent from 1995 to 2013, almost double the growth rate of the U.S. population (20.3 percent).
  • Passengers took 10.7 billion trips in 2013 – the highest ridership since 1956.
  • The nation’s largest transit agency, MTA New York City Transit, carried passengers on 3.3 billion trips for 12.2 billion miles.
  • Public transit users save more than $9,381 per year by taking public transportation instead of driving (American Public Transportation Association, 2010).

Other statistics:

  • Public transit reduces petroleum consumption by a total of 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline each year. This represents 108 million fewer cars filling up – almost 300,000 everyday (ICF International, 2007).
  • In 2006, public transit around the country saved 3.4 billion gallons of oil and prevented 26 million tons of greenhouse gases (Maryland Public Interest Research Group, 2008).  

As urban areas continue to grow, and roads reach their capacity, there will be an increased demand for transit buses, trains, vans, and other means to move people efficiently and without harming the environment.  We must continue to make smart investments in our mass transit systems so that people will have choices when it comes to their mobility.

Additional Resources

Infrastructure That Needs Investment