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FHWA Home / Policy & Governmental Affairs / 2004 Conditions and Performance

Conditions and Performance

Status of the Nation's Highways, Bridges, and Transit:
2004 Conditions and Performance
Chapter 2 System Characteristics
  • Summary
  • Highway System Characteristics
    • Highways by Ownership
    • Highways by Purpose
      • Review of Functional Classification Concepts
      • Functional Classification Data
    • Highway Travel
    • Intelligent Transportation Systems
  • Bridge System Characteristics
    • Bridges by Owner
    • Bridges by Functional Classification
  • Transit System Characteristics
    • Transit Services, and Jurisdiction, and Use
      • Transit Fleet and Infrastructure
      • System Network (Urban Route Miles)
      • System Capacity
      • Passenger Travel
      • Vehicle Occupancy
      • Rural Transit Systems (Section 5311 Providers)
      • Transit System Characteristics for Americans with Disabilities and the Elderly (Section 5310 Providers)


Exhibit 2-1 summarizes the key findings in this chapter, comparing system and use characteristics data in this report with the 2000 values shown in the 2002 Conditions and Performance (C&P) Report. Some of the 2000 values have subsequently been revised, which is reflected in the second column as appropriate. The third column contains comparable values based on 2002 data.

Exhibit 2-1 Comparision of System and Use Characteristics with Those in the 2002 C and P Report
Statistic 2000 Data 2002 Data
2002 C&P Report Revised as of 12/23/04
Percentage of Total Highway Miles Owned by Local Governments77.4% 77.5%
Percentage of Total Highway Miles Owned by State Governments19.6% 19.5%
Percentage of Total Highway Miles Owned by the Federal Government3.0% 3.0%
Local Transit Operators in Urbanized Areas614 610
Rural and Specialized Transit Service Providers4,888 6,051
Total Rural Highway Miles (Population under 5,000)3.09 million 3.08 million
Total Urban Highway Miles (Population equal to or above 5,000)0.86 million .90 million
Total Highway Miles3.95 million 3.98 million
Transit Route Miles (Rail)9,2219,2229,484
Transit Route Miles (Nonrail)163,303196,858225,820
Total Transit Route Miles172,524206,080235,304
Total Rural Highway Lane Miles (Population under 5,000)6.32 million 6.31 million
Total Urban Highway Lane Miles (Population equal to or above 5,000)1.93 million 2.02 million
Total Highway Lane Miles8.25 million 8.33 million
Urban Transit Capacity-Equivalent Miles (Rail)1.87 billion2.08 billion2.18 billion
Urban Transit Capacity-Equivalent Miles (Nonrail)1.90 billion1.9 1billion2.03 billion
Urban Transit Capacity-Equivalent Miles (Total)3.77 billion3.99 billion4.21 billion
Vehicle Miles Traveled on Rural Highways (Population under 5,000)1.09 trillion1.09 trillion1.13 trillion
Vehicle Miles Traveled on Urban Highways
(Population equal to or above 5,000)
1.67 trillion1.67 trillion1.74 trillion
Vehicle Miles Traveled on All Highways2.68 trillion2.76 trillion2.87 trillion
Transit Passenger Miles (Rail)24.60 billion 24.6 billion
Transit Passenger Miles (Nonrail)20.50 billion 21.3 billion
Transit Passenger Miles (Total)45.10 billion 45.9 billion

There were almost 3.98 million miles of public roads in the United States in 2002, of which nearly 3.08 million miles were in rural areas (rural areas are defined as locations with less than 5,000 residents, and urban communities are defined as those areas with 5,000 or more people). Local governments controlled over 77 percent of total highway miles in 2002; States controlled nearly 20 percent; and the Federal Government owned about 3 percent. Hence, the Nation's highway system is overwhelmingly rural and local.

Total highway lane mileage was almost 8.33 million in 2002. Lane miles have increased at an average annual rate of about 0.2 percent since 1993, mostly in urban areas. Urban lane mileage grew to more than 2.0 million by 2002, while rural lane mileage decreased slightly, but was still approximately 6.3 million.

Q. Is the increase in urban lane mileage entirely due to new construction?

No. While some of the additional lane miles are attributable to new road construction or the widening of existing roads, a significant percentage is attributable to functional reclassification due to population growth and the adjustment of urban boundaries due to the results of the 2000 census.

As urban boundaries have expanded to encompass areas formerly classified as rural, the mileage within those boundaries has been reclassified as small urban mileage. The same situation has occurred as urbanized area boundaries have expanded to subsume areas that were formerly classified as rural or small urban.

Since the 2000 census, States have been gradually updating their reported mileage data in the Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS) to reflect these new urban boundaries. This process is likely to continue through 2006 and therefore a continuing trend of increases in small urban and urbanized mileage coupled with a decline in rural mileage is very likely to continue in the next edition of the C&P report.

The number of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) between 1993 and 2002 grew by an average of 2.5 percent annually. About 1.1 trillion VMT were on rural highways, and over 1.7 trillion were on urban roads. Traffic has increased in metropolitan areas, but it has also grown in rural areas where there is increased truck traffic and visits by tourists to recreation centers.

There are 591,707 bridges in excess of 6 meters (20 feet) in total length carrying public roads in the United States. These structures carry nearly 4 billion vehicles daily and, with over 300 million square meters of total deck area, represent a sizeable investment. Information on the composition and conditions of these structures is maintained by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) in the National Bridge Inventory (NBI) database.

The majority of the bridges are located in rural areas (77 percent); however, the majority of traffic (73 percent of the total daily traffic volume) is carried by the urban structures. In terms of the total number of structures, 58 percent of the bridges carry local roadways, either in a rural or urban setting. Considering the higher functional classifications, 22 percent of the structures carry principal arterials, including rural and urban interstates and other expressways. Bridges carrying local roadways, however, service less than 5 percent of the total daily traffic volume; bridges carrying principal arterials service 78 percent of the daily traffic. Thus, the bridge inventory, like the road network, is predominantly rural and local when considering numbers of bridges; however, when traffic impact is considered, the importance of bridges in urban areas and bridges carrying higher functional classifications cannot be understated.

Q. Are the 2002 HPMS data cited in this report fully consistent with those reported in the Highway Statistics 2002 publication?

No. The data reflected in this report represents the latest available data as of the date the chapters were written. Certain States had revised their data following the publication of the Highway Statistics 2002. The HPMS database is subject to further change if other States identify a need to revise their data. Such changes will be reflected in the next edition of the C&P report. Additional information on HPMS is available on the following website: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/hpms.cfm

Responsibility for and ownership of bridges is split primarily between State agencies (47 percent) and local governments (51 percent). Federal agencies own less than 10,000 bridges nationwide (2 percent), and there are a small number of privately owned or railroad-owned bridges carrying public roadways. State agencies tend to own bridges located on higher functional classifications, such as principal arterials; the majority of local government bridges are located on local and collector roadways.

Transit system coverage, capacity, and use in the United States continued to increase between 2000 and 2002. In 2002, there were 610 transit operators serving urbanized areas compared with 614 operators in 2000. In 2000, the most recent year for which information is available, there were 1,215 transit operators serving rural areas and in 2002, there were an estimated 4,836 providers of special service transit services to the elderly and disabled in both urban and rural areas. A transit provider may be an independent agency, a unit of a regional transportation agency or a unit of a state, county, or city government.

In 2002, transit agencies in urban areas operated 114,564 vehicles, of which 87,295 were in areas of more than 1 million people. Rail systems had 10,722 miles of rail track and 2,862 rail stations, compared with 10,572 miles of track and 2,825 stations in 2000. The number of bus and rail maintenance facilities in urban areas increased from 759 in 2000 to 769 in 2002. The most recent survey of rural transit operators, undertaken in 2000, estimated that 19,185 transit vehicles operated in rural areas; the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has estimated that in 2002 there were 37,720 special service vehicles operated for the elderly and disabled, of which 16,219 had been funded by the FTA.

In 2002, transit systems operated 235,304 directional route miles, of which 225,820 were nonrail and 9,484 were rail route miles. Total route miles increased by 14.2 percent in total between 2000 and 2002. Nonrail route miles increased by 14.7 percent, and rail route miles increased by 2.8 percent.

Transit system capacity as measured by capacity-equivalent vehicle revenue miles (VRM) increased by 5.6 percent in total between 2000 and 2002. Capacity-equivalent VRM measure the distance traveled by a transit vehicle in revenue service, adjusted by the passenger-carrying capacity of each transit vehicle type, with the passenger-carrying capacity of a motor bus representing the baseline. The capacity of rail modes increased by 5.2 percent between 2000 and 2002 in total, and the capacity of nonrail modes by 7.8 percent. In 2002, slightly more than half of capacity-equivalent VRM were provided by rail modes, and slightly less than half were provided by nonrail modes. Capacity-equivalent VRM provided by light rail systems grew rapidly between 2000 and 2002, reflecting New Starts openings and extensions, increasing in total by 16.2 percent.

Transit passenger miles increased by 1.9 percent in total between 2000 and 2002, from 45.1 billion to 45.9 billion. Passenger miles traveled on nonrail modes increased from 20.5 billion in 2000 to 21.3 billion in 2002, or by total of 4.0 percent. Passenger miles on rail transit modes were unchanged at 24.6 billion. The lack of growth in aggregate passenger miles traveled on rail transit modes reflects a decrease in heavy rail ridership, particularly in the New York City and surrounding areas, most likely resulting from the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Vehicle occupancy of transit vehicles, adjusted to the capacity of a bus, fluctuated between 10.6 persons and 11.3 persons per vehicle between 1993 and 2002. In 2002, vehicle occupancy was 10.9 persons compared with 11.3 persons in 2000.

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