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Status of the Nation's Highways, Bridges, and Transit:
2006 Conditions and Performance
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Chapter 1: Executive Summary

The Role of Highways and Transit

Highways and transit are crucial components of the U.S. public infrastructure and play vital roles in maintaining the vigor of the U.S. economy.

The use of private automobiles on our large highway network provides Americans with a high degree of personal mobility, continuing to allow people to travel where and with whom they want, but under conditions of increasing system unreliability and declining speeds. In 2001, 87 percent of daily trips involved the use of personal vehicles. Travel to and from work continues to decrease as a proportion of all travel, as trips rise for purposes including shopping, household errands, and recreational activities.

Highways are also a key conduit for freight movement in the United States. Trucks carried 60 percent of total freight shipments by weight and 70 percent by value (not including shipments moved by truck in combination with another mode). Trucks are playing an increasingly important role as businesses turn to just-in-time delivery systems to minimize logistics costs.

Transit plays a vital role in enhancing 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 and broader transportation choices to people with cars. Transit plays a key role in economic growth and development, connecting workers and employers.

Transit helps people without cars take advantage of a wider range of job and educational opportunities and access health care and other vital services. It also enables them to be more active members of their communities and to build and maintain social relationships. In 2001, 43 percent of nationwide transit riders lived in households with incomes of less than 20,000 and 44 percent came from households without cars.

The Complementary Roles of Highways and Transit

Highways and transit are complementary, serving distinct but overlapping markets in the Nation's transportation system. A high-quality transit system gives people who prefer living in a dense, urban environment the opportunity to do so without sacrificing their mobility. An adequate highway network does the same for people who prefer a suburban or rural lifestyle.

Highway investments can benefit those transit modes that share roadways with private autos (such as buses, vanpools, and demand response vehicles). Having good highway access to transit stations in outlying areas increases the accessibility of transit.

Transit improvements can improve the operational performance of highways by attracting private vehicle drivers off the road during peak periods of congestion. The availability of a transit alternative as a backup mode can increase the attractiveness of carpooling for commuters.

The Evolving Federal Role

The Federal-aid highway program is a Federally assisted, State-administered program. Federal, State, and local transportation partners work together to deliver the Nation's highway program. In recent years, Congress has increased statutory authority for States to assume certain Federal-aid highway project oversight responsibilities, where appropriate, while the Federal Highway Administration has maintained responsibilities for program-level oversight, research, and deployment of new technologies and methods.

The Federal transit program is a Federally assisted and administered program, operated through a program of formula and discretionary grants to urban areas and, through States, to rural communities. Over time, the focus of the Federal government has shifted from formula to discretionary programs, such as the New Starts Program, which provides funds for the construction of new fixed guideway systems or extensions to existing systems. The Federal Transit Administration works with grantees to ensure that projects meet a range of criteria for both project justification and local financial commitment.

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