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Status of the Nation's Highways, Bridges, and Transit:
2004 Conditions and Performance
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Chapter 1 Executive Summary

The Role of Highways and Transit

The Nation's Transportation System

America's transportation system is the essential element facilitating the movement of goods and people within the country. It forms the backbone of local, regional, national, and international trade, making most economic activity critically dependent upon this resource.

The Role of Highway Transportation

The use of private automobiles on the Nation's large highway network provides Americans with a high degree of personal mobility. Automobile transportation allows people to travel where, when, and with whom they want. In 2001, 87 percent of daily trips involved the use of personal vehicles.

Highways are also a key conduit for freight movement in the United States, accounting for 71 percent of total freight transport by weight (and 80 percent by value) in 1998.

The Role of Transit

Transit plays a vital role in enhancing the productivity and the quality of life in the United States. It provides basic mobility and expanded opportunities to people without the use of a car; it provides broader transportation choices to people with cars, as well as reduced travel times and road congestion in major transportation corridors. It also facilitates economic growth and development and supports environmentally sustainable and safe communities.

Transit is particularly important to people with limited incomes and without cars, especially older adults and people with disabilities. Transit enables them to take advantage of a wider range of job and educational opportunities, to obtain the health care that they require, to be more active members of their communities and to build and maintain social relationships.

The Complementary Roles of Highways and Transit

Highways and transit serve distinct but overlapping markets. Highway and transit investments expand the travel options available to people. While highways provide the highest degree of mobility, transit is essential for those who do not have access to a private vehicle and is often preferable for certain types of trips. Highway investments can also encourage transit usage by improving access to transit facilities; well-maintained highways improve the operating efficiency of transit modes that use highways. Transit can help mitigate highway congestion by offering an alternative during peak travel times. (Note that the analytical models used to develop the investment analyses later in this report do not quantify the potential for highway or transit invest-ments to serve as complements or substitutes.)

The Evolving Federal Role in Surface Transportation

The Federal government has played a key role throughout the country's history in shaping the transportation system. This role has evolved over time to meet changing needs and priorities.

The Federal-aid highway program is administered by the States with assistance from the Federal government. In recent years, Congress has increased statutory authority for States to assume certain Federal-aid highway project oversight responsibilities, where appropriate. FTA works with grantees eligible or receiving funds for New Starts capital investment projects to choose the best projects, and facilitate the most effective design and implementation.

Highways and transit are closely linked in their function and funding sources. FHWA and FTA work closely with each other and other Federal, State, and local agencies, and other partners to maximize the benefits of the public investment in highways and transit, and to prepare to meet America's future transportation needs.

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