U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590

Skip to content
Facebook iconYouTube iconTwitter iconFlickr iconLinkedInInstagram

Home / Briefing Room / Speeches & Testimony

Briefing Room

Subscribe to FHWA Press Releases

SEPTEMBER 26, 2002

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to discuss the state of our Nation's highway and bridge infrastructure.

Section 502(g) of title 23 United States Code (U.S.C.) requires the Secretary of Transportation to submit to the Congress every two years a report that describes "estimates of the future highway and bridge needs of the United States" and "the backlog of current highway and bridge needs." This is commonly known as the Conditions and Performance Report. Since 1993, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has partnered with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to produce a Conditions and Performance Report that contains both highway and transit data.

The 2002 edition of the Conditions and Performance Report is in final clearance. I know that this report is of interest to Congress in the reauthorization process, and it is my hope that the report will be transmitted to the Congress this fall. Today, I would like to share some of the findings from the Conditions and Performance Report that can help you understand the state of the Nation's highway and bridge infrastructure. In addition, a summary of the major findings of the Conditions and Performance Report is attached to this statement.

Significant Increases in Highway and Bridge Infrastructure Investment

The 2002 edition of the Conditions and Performance Report is the first edition to capture the effects of investment in highways, bridges, and transit under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). Since the enactment of TEA-21 in 1998, combined investment in highway infrastructure, by all levels of government, has increased sharply. Total highway expenditures by Federal, State, and local governments increased by 25.0 percent between 1997 and 2000. This equates to a 14.4 percent increase in constant dollar terms. Highway capital spending alone rose to $64.6 billion in 2000, a 33.7 percent increase over 1997.

The increased Federal funding levels for highway capital investment under TEA-21 through 2000 have been matched and exceeded by increases in State and local investment. This is a very important point. State and local governments did not simply substitute Federal funds for their own during this robust economic period. Instead, they poured billions of additional dollars into transportation projects beyond the minimum increases necessary to meet Federal matching requirements. As a result, the State share of highway capital investment rose from 1997 to 2000. In 1998, the State share of highway capital outlays was above 60 percent for the first time since 1959, and remained above that level through 2000.

New Emphasis on System Preservation

The TEA-21 era coincided with a shift in the types of capital improvements made by State and local governments. During the TEA-21 era, States redirected their investments toward system preservation projects (the resurfacing, rehabilitation, or reconstruction of existing highway lanes and bridges). There was a 45.7 percent increase in spending on system preservation, from $23.2 billion in 1997 to $33.6 billion in 2000. The fact that system preservation projects tend to have shorter lead times and are often less controversial than system expansion projects, may have contributed to such projects attracting a greater share of the increased funding available under TEA-21. Investment in system expansion (the construction of new roads and bridges and the widening of existing roads) grew more slowly, rising 20.8 percent from $21.6 billion to $25.9 billion.

This increase in system preservation investment has had a profound effect on the overall physical condition of the Nation's highway and bridge infrastructure. The percentage of highway mileage with "acceptable" ride quality rose from 82.5 percent in 1993 to 86.0 percent in 2000. The percentage of bridge deck area considered deficient dropped from 30.9 percent in 1996 to 27.9 percent in 2000. These improvements, however, were not uniform across all highways and bridges. For example, the condition of higher-order roads, such as Interstates, has improved considerably since 1993, while conditions on many lower-order roads have deteriorated. Bridge condition also differs by functional system. Interstate bridges, for example, tend to be less structurally deficient or functionally obsolete than bridges on collector or local roads.

Continued Improvement in Highway Safety

The 2002 Conditions and Performance Report also documents the Nation's continued improvement in the area of highway safety. Safety is the top priority for the Department of Transportation. I am pleased to report that highways have become safer even as travel sharply increased. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles traveled has decreased, from 3.3 in 1980 to 1.5 in 2000, which met the Department's Performance Plan target. The Department will continue to work with our State and local partners to reduce the number of crashes on our Nation's highways even further.

Deterioration in Operational Performance

Despite the historic investment in highway infrastructure and improved conditions on many roads and bridges, operational performance of the infrastructure-the quality of the user's experience-has steadily deteriorated over the past decade. In 1987 for example, a trip that would take 20 minutes during non-congested periods required, on average, 25.8 minutes under congested conditions. By 2000, the same trip under congested conditions required 30.2 minutes, or an additional 4.4 minutes.

Some estimates attribute as much delay to incidents as to recurring congestion. Part of the answer to all forms of congestion is an increased emphasis on operations, including more effective responses to incidents, better management of work zones, and deployment of Intelligent Transportation Systems.

Highway Investment Requirements Analysis

The heart of the Conditions and Performance Report is an analysis of future capital investment requirements under different scenarios. The Cost to Improve Highways and Bridges scenario is intended to define the upper limit of cost-effective national investment based on engineering and economic criteria. This is essentially an "investment ceiling" above which it would not be cost-beneficial to invest. This scenario implicitly assumes unlimited availability of funding, and does not take into account competing investment options in the economy that may have an even more favorable cost-benefit return. The Cost to Maintain Highways and Bridges scenario is designed to show the investment required to keep future indicators of conditions and performance at current levels, based on long term projections of future highway use. These benchmarks are intended to be illustrative and do not represent comprehensive alternative transportation policies.

In addition to these primary scenarios, the report also identifies the projected level of investment required to achieve other specific benchmarks, such as average pavement conditions, and estimates the current backlog of cost-beneficial preservation and capacity investments based solely on current conditions and traffic volume.

It is important to note that the scenarios in the Conditions and Performance Report are intended to address investment requirements for all levels of government combined. The report makes no attempt to address the question of what share of total infrastructure investment should be borne by the Federal government, State governments, local governments, or the private sector.

The average annual investment level under the Cost to Improve Highways and Bridges Scenario is projected to be $106.9 billion for 2001 through 2020, stated in constant year 2000 dollars. This is 65.3 percent higher than the $64.6 billion of total capital investments by all levels of government in 2000. The average annual investment level under the Cost to Maintain Highways and Bridges is projected to be $75.9 billion for 2001 through 2020, which is 17.5 percent larger than the $64.6 billion of capital spending in 2000.

Capital spending by all levels of government is projected to increase in constant dollar terms over the remainder of the life of TEA-21. This assumes, however, that Federal, State, and local governments will be in a financial position to allow them to continue to increase their highway and bridge investments. Government at all levels may not be able to sustain the rate of increase in infrastructure investment observed in recent years.

In addition to the two investment scenarios I have just described, the Conditions and Performance Report also predicts the impacts of numerous alternative investment levels on a variety of condition and performance indicators.

If investment were to remain at year 2000 levels, or anticipated levels for 2001 to 2003, it is projected that recent trends observed in the condition and performance of the highway system would continue. At this range of investment levels, conditions and safety performance would improve, but the operational performance of the highway system would further deteriorate. Average speeds would decline, the amount of delay experienced by drivers would increase, and the average length of congested periods on the Nation's urban principal arterials would increase. Recent trends towards improvements in bridge conditions would also continue; however, the aging of the Nation's bridges, particularly on the Interstate system, will present additional challenges in the future.

The preceding edition of the Conditions and Performance report suggested that it would be cost-beneficial to devote a larger share of future highway investment increases toward system preservation. As I previously noted, such a shift did occur between 1997 and 2000, resulting in significant improvements in the physical conditions of the Nation's highways and bridges; however, the operational performance of the highway system continued to decline over this period. Since 1997, infrastructure investment at all levels of government has been more successful in addressing physical conditions than operating performance. Therefore, the Conditions and Performance Report now suggests that it would be cost-beneficial to devote a larger share of future increases in highway capital investment toward system expansion.


In conclusion, the state of the Nation's road and bridge infrastructure has generally improved due to the significant investment increases of the TEA-21 era. Since the enactment of TEA-21, State and local governments-spurred in part by higher levels of Federal investment-have poured billions of dollars into highway infrastructure. This investment led to improved highway and bridge conditions, particularly on higher-order functional systems. Despite record levels of funding, however, operational performance-measured by congestion-worsened throughout the country. Congestion increased in metropolitan areas of every size. FHWA's analysis of highway and bridge needs and investment requirements suggests that future funding continue to address system preservation needs, but that increases be reoriented toward system expansion to reduce user costs and enhance system performance.

Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee, this concludes my statement. I again thank you for the opportunity to testify today and I look forward to working with you as we prepare for reauthorization of the surface transportation programs. I will be pleased to answer any questions you may have.


FHWA Speeches & Testimony

Page last modified on September 14, 2012
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000