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Highway report shows where Americans rack up the miles

Highway report shows where Americans rack up the miles

In 2011, people drove more than 84.7 billion miles on California interstate highways. That's more than 900 times the distance from Earth to the Sun, and it makes the Golden State's highways the nation's busiest. Overall, our nation's interstate highways saw vehicles traveling 2.95 trillion miles in 2011. That's nearly double the number of highway miles traveled in 1980.

You can find these data and more in the Federal Highway Administration's “U.S. Interstate Traffic Volume Analysis.” In addition to State totals, the report released last week also shows vehicle miles traveled on individual highways. America's busiest interstate? Not surprisingly, it's California's I-5, which saw drivers rack up 21.4 billion miles in 2011. In fact, the nation's next two busiest highway segments are also in California--the I-10 and I-110--and the Los Angeles section of I-405 leads the way among city highways.

While these facts might help you impress your friends or score some points in a trivia contest, for State DOTs and highway planners, they are much more valuable. Knowing where vehicles are traveling helps highway departments focus their resources more effectively. As U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, “Better information means cities and states can more efficiently target congestion and help people get home from work faster.”

Blue-washed photo of a busy California highway

The new analysis also indicates "Mean Pavement Roughness" for each roadway, and that can help planners prioritize highway maintenance for improved safety and reduced bottlenecks. As FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez said, “Analysis of the nation’s traffic patterns and areas of changing traffic volume will lead to safer, less congested roads and greater mobility for all Americans.”

Improved safety and increased mobility--that's what DOT is all about, and the FHWA's Interstate Analysis is one more tool to help us work toward those important goals.

You can see data for your state in the FHWA's Interstate Brief.

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Interesting data. It's worth pointing out that California accounts for about 12% of national vehicle miles traveled -- but it also accounts for about 12% of national population. So it's actually a perfect representation of the national average in terms of travel per person.

The figures highlighted in the Secretary’s blog are neither trivial nor a subject for lighthearted conversation. The “doubling of highway miles traveled in 30 years” is conveyed as a proud accomplishment, but screams out for context. How much did population grow over the same period, are there other critical factors – e.g. women entering the workforce, the need to reduce energy consumption, or a recent trend away from driving – that make sense of the data? Knowing where congestion is happening is like a Doctor knowing where to operate to heal a patient. It tells us virtually nothing about the proper treatment. Increased safety and mobility may be “what the DOT is all about”. But real mobility, for all Americans, is so much more than highway miles traveled – which by definition can’t be traveled by bike or on foot, and doesn’t capture the efficiency of buses and carpools. If we all want to get home faster and we also want to be able to breathe, the solution is land use and development, and better transit and bicycling/walking options, all of which reduce the need to travel on highways every day. Transit for Livable Communities urges the Secretary to use these data as yet more evidence of the sustainable investments we must make now.

knowledge is power :-) Put it to good use-
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