The Federal Highway Administration has started publishing its 2016 Highway Statistics, including the latest data on highway miles, miles of driving, and road conditions. Most financial data are not yet available nor are driving data broken down by urban areas, but these should appear soon.
The data show that the number of bridges considered “structurally deficient” declined by nearly 5 percent from 58,791 in 2015 to 56,007 in 2016, continuing a trend that goes back to at least 1990, when 137,865 were considered deficient. The last American highway bridge to collapse due to a maintenance failure was Tennessee’s Hatchie River Bridge in 1989. I suspect that failure led the Federal Highway Administration to increase its monitoring of bridge conditions to encourage states to keep them maintained.
The new data also show that pavements in 2016 were slightly less rough than in 2015. The improvement was not uniform, however. The data indicate that pavements in Arkansas were much rougher in 2016 than in 2015, and the difference was so great that I suspect either a data error or someone in Arkansas was misreporting the data before 2016.
As the Antiplanner has noted before, the trends in bridge and pavement conditions discredit the notion that we face some sort of infrastructure crisis, at least with respect to highways and bridges. All of the recent reports of such a crisis stem from attempts by engineering and construction companies to increase federal spending in ways that will profit those companies.
Miles of driving in 2016 increased by 2.9 percent over 2015, and since the nation’s population grew by only 0.7 percent, per capita driving grew by 1.8 percent. A few states–Arizona, New York, North Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wyoming–saw per capita driving decline, which in at least some instances was due to economic conditions particularly with the coal and oil industries.
While per capita driving grew in “smart-growth” states like California (0.7%), Oregon (0.3%), and Washington (0.5%), that growth was much lower than the average. Two other states that have emphasized transit over roads–Massachusetts (3.9%) and Utah (4.1%)–saw per capita driving grow much faster than average, showing that so-called smart-growth policies don’t always have an effect on driving. Even in the Pacific Coast states where they appear to be having an effect, it is small: all three states have set targets to reduce per capita driving, yet it is clear that they aren’t coming close to those goals.