U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
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Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations
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|Publication Number: Date: Spring 1996|
Issue No: Vol. 59 No. 4
Date: Spring 1996
In a number of addresses delivered across the country last year, FHWA Administrator Rodney Slater discussed the FHWA's many achievements during its long and storied existence, and he outlined the agency's goals leading to the year 2020. He said that far from resting on the laurels of past accomplishments, the agency will take a proactive stance in anticipating and meeting the nation's burgeoning transportation needs. Borrowing a phrase from the late Adlai Stevenson, Slater noted, "Change is inevitable. Change for the better is a full-time job". FHWA is ready for that job, Slater said.
The Federal-Aid Road Act and the Federal-Aid Highway Act have been enormously important in the development of the sophisticated network of highways that tied the states together and created the world's most mobile population. And these highways serve as the economic conduit through which much of the nation's commerce is conducted.
Administrator Slater ascribes the enduring success of FHWA as a vigilant and visionary agency to the commitment to our core values: mobility, partnerships, and continuous improvement in the quality of personnel and technology.
But as important and accomplished as FHWA's past is, the agency's collective gaze is clearly fixed on the future and in carrying out "change for the better." Saluting the efforts of past FHWA employees in making the Wilson and Eisenhower transportation blueprints a reality, Slater ascribed their success to the commitment to our core values: mobility, partnerships, and continuous improvement in the quality of personnel and technology. He said FHWA remains committed to those principles and that they will be instrumental in helping the FHWA continue its impressive track record between now and 2020.
The population of the United States is expected to more than double during the next century. The largest growing group will be the elderly, who will have the money, time, and inclination to fill the nation's highways.
Most people will continue to live in or immediately around major metropolitan centers, placing additional strains on already overly burdened roadways. This massive increase in travelers also equates to significant increases in both energy consumption and the production of environmental pollution. And while the notion of telecommuters opting for the information highway rather than the interstate to commute to work is attractive, in reality the majority of America's work force will continue to drive themselves to and from the office for the foreseeable future.
Economic considerations will also play a major role in FHWA's transportation blueprint for the future as the U.S. economy increasingly finds itself a partner in the global marketplace. Already, we have witnessed significant transportation initiatives between the U.S., Mexican, and Canadian governments resulting from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). As the influence of the big multinational corporations continues to spread, traditional demarcations between countries will blur, creating a demand for seamless, intermodal transportation systems able to ship goods anywhere in the world quickly, efficiently, and safely.
The National Highway System will provide the links that hold the intermodal network together.
FHWA also recently completed the Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP), the most ambitious highway research program in 30 years. Carried out in conjunction with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), SHRP resulted in "many practical, real-world products that advance our technological mastery of the variables that challenge road and bridge builders and operators," said Slater.
But a tremendous amount of work remains to be done. Although FHWA and its predecessor agencies have created the world's largest, most effective transportation system, it is quickly reaching the limits of its current operating paradigm. Many urban roadways are already handling traffic loads much higher than originally intended, and there is little room for additional growth. FHWA, along with its public and private sector partners, is counting on the National Highway System and the Intelligent Transportation Systems to maximize existing resources and create a seamless intermodal backbone that will see the nation well into the next century.
While the National Highway System will continue expanding the existing highway system, it is the proposed National Transportation System that will finally move the much-touted intermodal transportation network from the drawing room to the streets. This system will "connect our major population centers and destinations ... [and] provide access to markets beyond the Interstate System," said Slater.
The National Transportation System, like the Wilson, Roosevelt, and Eisenhower plans before it, represents another quantum leap forward in U.S. transportation architecture. For the first time, all modes of transportation will be integrated into a seamless intermodal transportation network capable of offering travelers and industry alike the most efficient, accessible, safe, and expeditious means of traveling from one point to another.
Under the auspices of ISTEA, FHWA has been tasked with making the intermodal transportation network a reality by assuming responsibility for the National Highway System. This system, as Administrator Slater pointed out, "will provide the links that hold the intermodal network together."
So it is perhaps fitting that as FHWA prepares to pay tribute to Eisenhower's landmark Federal-Aid Highway Act, which brought the nation together through the Interstate System, FHWA should now be taking steps toward the next great milestone in U.S. transportation history: connecting the United States to the rest of the world.