Motor vehicle travel on all U.S. roads rose again in July to continue a streak of setting ever-higher record volume levels with every new monthly report.
The Federal Highway Administration in its latest “Traffic Volume Trends” report said motorists drove 2.2 billion more vehicle miles in July than in the same month last year, for a 0.8 percent gain over July 2016.
And for the first seven months of 2017 the FHWA said vehicle miles traveled increased by 1.5 percent, after setting an all-time annual high in 2016.
That steady increase in traffic helps explain why so many areas of the country continue to face worsening highway congestion, fraying pavement and other signs of stress on the U.S. transportation infrastructure.
The new evidence of growing traffic pressure on the road system also comes at a time when various federal sources of infrastructure funding have been delayed, which in turn can delay some project investments that could improve roadway mobility and safety along with pavement conditions.
“The latest figures confirm that we are still in a long-term trend in which traffic demand on the nation’s highway system – and the wear and tear it produces for that infrastructure – just keeps increasing,” said Bud Wright, executive director at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. “Meanwhile, funding constraints often prevent the kind of robust investments that are needed to keep up with demand and significantly improve mobility.”
Congress has voted to keep transportation programs – as well as most other government operations – funded at past-year levels until Dec. 8, or 10 weeks past the Oct. 1 start of the 2018 budget year, while it tries to craft a full-year spending plan for federal agencies.
But that means state departments of transportation won’t be able to tap into a scheduled $1 billion increase in highway program funding until at least Dec. 8, or longer if lawmakers take more time to come up with a full-year budget agreement.
For some states, not getting the full 2018 federal funds on time in October – when they are planning their bid lists for projects they will tackle next spring and summer – could mean delaying actual infrastructure projects along with the safety and economic benefits they bring.
In addition, the Trump administration just recently began taking project applications for the 2017 round of $500 million in TIGER infrastructure grants. And it delayed about $700 million in separate Highway Trust Fund project grants under a program it calls “INFRA,” by pairing them with the scheduled 2018 round.
In both cases, that means the 2017 TIGER and INFRA grants won’t be awarded until past the 2017 construction season, which can delay projects state DOTs and other project sponsors would undertake with the federal grants.