U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
202-366-4000


Skip to content
Facebook iconYouTube iconTwitter iconFlickr iconLinkedInInstagram

Federal Highway Administration Research and Technology
Coordinating, Developing, and Delivering Highway Transportation Innovations

 
Public Roads
This magazine is an archived publication and may contain dated technical, contact, and link information.
Public Roads Home | Past Issues | Subscriptions | Article Reprints | Guidelines for Authors: Public Roads Magazine | Sign Up for E-Version of Public Roads | Search Public Roads
| Current Issue |
Back to Publication List        
Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-16-002     Date:  January/February 2016
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-16-002
Issue No: Vol. 79 No. 4
Date: January/February 2016

 

Moving Beyond Traffic

by Gregory Nadeau

Preparing the transportation system for the future starts today. But in an era of rapid change, getting there requires consistent, reliable investment at the Federal level.

The sun is setting behind the new Francis Avenue Bridge in Spokane, WA. The widened structure, which spans both the existing BNSF Railway tracks and a new freeway, is the first of several projects that comprise the southern 5 miles (8 kilometers) of the U.S. 395 North Spokane Corridor. Until recently, funding uncertainty delayed completion of the remaining projects, a problem thousands of similar projects across the country are facing.
The sun is setting behind the new Francis Avenue Bridge in Spokane, WA. The widened structure, which spans both the existing BNSF Railway tracks and a new freeway, is the first of several projects that comprise the southern 5 miles (8 kilometers) of the U.S. 395 North Spokane Corridor. Until recently, funding uncertainty delayed completion of the remaining projects, a problem thousands of similar projects across the country are facing.

In February 2015, the U.S. Department of Transportation released a draft study called Beyond Traffic: Trends and Choices 2045. The study looks at the trends that are likely to affect the U.S. transportation system over the next three decades and the tough choices facing decisionmakers. The report’s main objective was to start asking some of the hard questions:

How will the transportation system accommodate a growing population and changing travel patterns? How can we reduce freight chokepoints that drive up the cost of owning a business? How can we knock down barriers to new technologies that promise to make travel safer and more convenient? How can we make infrastructure more resilient to catastrophic events like Hurricane Sandy? How will the Nation align decisions and dollars, and invest the trillions of dollars the transportation system needs in the smartest way possible?

Most important, the report asks what the transportation system will look like in 2045 if the United States does not modify its transportation policies and investment strategies to keep up with changing demographics and technological advances.

The short answer is that our transportation system will be woefully ill equipped to handle the demands of a growing population, improve our quality of life, and support the economy. The U.S. Census Bureau expects the Nation’s population to grow by about 70 million people by 2045 and freight volume to increase by 45 percent. And, if investment stays the same, the transportation system soon will become less reliable in terms of delivering goods and people. Already, the average driver in the United States wastes more than 40 hours in traffic every year, and that number could significantly increase in the years ahead. According to some estimates, by 2040, Americans will spend 10 times longer stuck in traffic. This not only means loss of time for commuters, but also loss of productivity, higher shipping costs for businesses, and slower economic growth.

Traveling around the country, I have been fortunate to see the discussions in Beyond Traffic play out in the real world--with real projects and real people. Along the way, I have seen some projects go to construction as planned, while others remain at a standstill. These experiences have underscored what’s working in transportation today. And what’s not.

Sarah Mildred Long Bridge

In January 2015, I attended the groundbreaking for the new Sarah Mildred Long Bridge between Kittery, ME, and Portsmouth, NH. Replacing a 75-year-old bridge, which carries an estimated 14,000 drivers each day over the Piscataqua River, the new span also will provide rail access to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, carry commercial traffic along the U.S. Route1 Bypass, and serve as a primary emergency route. The Maine and New Hampshire Departments of Transportation are partnering to replace the river crossing.

According to the engineers, the new Sarah Mildred Long Bridge will last well into the 22nd century. Now that’s building for the future!

The Maine and New Hampshire DOTs are partnering to construct the new Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, shown in this rendering, over the Piscataqua River between Kittery, ME, and Portsmouth, NH. A $25 million grant from USDOT’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program helped get the project off the ground in January 2015.
The Maine and New Hampshire DOTs are partnering to construct the new Sarah Mildred Long Bridge, shown in this rendering, over the Piscataqua River between Kittery, ME, and Portsmouth, NH. A $25 million grant from USDOT’s Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program helped get the project off the ground in January 2015.

Moreover, projects such as the Sarah Mildred Long Bridge--built with Federal dollars--can ease traffic congestion, carry goods to market faster, and help area residents get to work and back home safely and efficiently. And that is what Beyond Traffic is all about.

Interstate 11

In April 2015, I visited a project in Boulder City, NV, that will indeed move us beyond traffic. The project is going to help achieve many of the key goals of the U.S. Department of Transportation, including enhanced safety, less congestion, and more efficient movement of freight. This project will create a direct connection between Las Vegas, NV, and Phoenix, AZ, bringing those two cities one step closer to a future interstate link. When completed, Interstate 11 (previously known as the Boulder City Bypass) will extend from the Hoover Dam Bypass at the Arizona–Nevada border to I–515 in Henderson, NV. The current U.S. 93, which serves as a major regional corridor for interstate commerce--carrying as many as 34,000 vehicles per day on certain stretches--will be rerouted to the new bypass, once it is completed.

FHWA Administrator Gregory Nadeau addresses the media at the groundbreaking for the first phase of the Boulder City Bypass (future Interstate 11). The project consists of a continuous four-lane, controlled-access, divided highway passing south of the developed area of Boulder City, NV.
FHWA Administrator Gregory Nadeau addresses the media at the groundbreaking for the first phase of the Boulder City Bypass (future Interstate 11). The project consists of a continuous four-lane, controlled-access, divided highway passing south of the developed area of Boulder City, NV.

The Federal Highway Administration is making this project possible with up to $291 million in Federal aid toward the $318 million total project cost. Although the project will greatly improve the region’s ability to compete economically, it is even more important when put in the larger context. The findings in Beyond Traffic not only underscore the importance of building this project, but helped compel the passage of a long-term funding bill so that the Nation can invest in critical projects like this across the country.

In the coming decades, much of the U.S. population will live in megaregions, many of them in the South and Southwest, including the area around Las Vegas. This means more freight--the lifeblood of the economy. In fact, with the 45-percent increase in freight movement expected by 2045, the Nation is going to be facing a tsunami of people and freight that we need to start preparing for now.

So, the groundbreaking for Interstate 11 represented more than just the startup of one important project. It was celebrating one important step toward meeting the demands the highway system is going to face in the future.

North Spokane Corridor

These projects in New England and Nevada represent the start of a bright future. On the other hand, in Spokane, WA, the future of one major corridor was, at least until recently, much bleaker. When I visited the project site in May 2015, the U.S. 395 North Spokane Corridor was only half built. And no funding was available to build the second half--the remaining 5 miles (8 kilometers) that links to I–90--at an expected cost of at least $879 million. And, unfortunately, the situation in Spokane exemplifies what is happening all around the country as a result of shortages in transportation funding.

This design visualization shows the new North Spokane Corridor facility as it crosses Euclid Avenue, about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) south of the Francis Avenue Bridge. The Washington State Legislature recently approved a transportation funding package that will move this project forward.
This design visualization shows the new North Spokane Corridor facility as it crosses Euclid Avenue, about 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) south of the Francis Avenue Bridge. The Washington State Legislature recently approved a transportation funding package that will move this project forward.

The corridor will be built on a completely new alignment as a limited-access highway, nearly 11miles (18 kilometers) long, to connect I–90 with points north of Spokane. It will provide motorists and freight carriers a faster route through Spokane, meaning fewer trucks on local streets traveling north and south. The completed corridor will alleviate congestion and improve traffic flow for thousands of drivers each day. And enhancing traffic flow in growing business hubs like Spokane helps everyone, with better safety and shorter commute times.

From one standpoint, the project really symbolizes what is right with the Nation’s transportation program today. That is, the people of this region came up with a plan for improving safety and reducing congestion with a new North Spokane Corridor. The good news is that the Washington State Legislature recently provided funding for completion of the freeway in a transportation package called Connecting Washington.

The bad news is that we still do not have the Federal funding to build many other projects like it across the country. These projects require substantial investment and a long-term timeline that will let communities plan and invest in projects that create jobs, improve the quality of life for residents, and help the economy grow. The North Spokane Corridor project will certainly help meet those goals, which makes it all the more tragic that it--like so many other critical projects--remained “on hold” for so long because of a lack of funding.

The Way Forward

In recent years, the U.S. Congress has passed more than 30 short-term measures to keep the surface transportation system afloat. The combination of inconsistent, unreliable funding and static policies in an era of rapid change has left the Nation’s transportation infrastructure in an increasingly deteriorated and fragile state. Further, it has left the United States on the precipice of losing its historical advantage in moving people and things faster, safer, and more reliably than any other Nation in the world.

So, how do we get beyond traffic? As Secretary Anthony Foxx writes in his letter to the reader in the opening pages of Beyond Traffic: “Essentially, three strategies need to be employed--all of which demand increased funding and new, more adaptive policymaking at the Federal, State, and local levels. First, we have to take better care of our legacy transportation systems. We cannot cross bridges that have fallen apart or connect commerce to ports in disrepair. Second, we must build what is new and necessary, taking into account changes in living patterns and where products will move to and from. Third, we must use technologies and better design approaches that will allow us to maximize the use of our old and new transportation assets. Doing so may involve adapting new innovations in vehicle safety and automation; improving Federal, State, and local coordination; and adopting best practices in road design.”

The purpose of Beyond Traffic is to open a national dialogue about what the country really needs and why we need it. We hope it prompts a long-overdue national conversation. And we look forward to hearing your feedback.


Gregory G. Nadeau is administrator of the Federal Highway Administration. Previously, he served as the agency’s acting administrator and as deputy administrator since 2009, focusing on spearheading the development and administration of Every Day Counts, an initiative designed to address shortening project delivery time and accelerating the rapid deployment of innovative technology using a State-based model.

For more information, visit www.transportation.gov/BeyondTraffic or contact Nancy Singer at 202–366–0660 or nancy.singer@dot.gov.

 

 

Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000
Turner-Fairbank Highway Research Center | 6300 Georgetown Pike | McLean, VA | 22101