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Transportation Infrastructure "Stressed To the Breaking Point"

In an editorial posted yesterday in Popular Mechanics, national security expert Stephen Flynn argues that Americans are relying on decades-old infrastructure intended for a much smaller passenger and vehicle load.

Diana DeRubertis | August 3, 2007, 10am PDT
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In an editorial posted yesterday in Popular Mechanics, national security expert Stephen Flynn argues that Americans are relying on decades-old infrastructure intended for a much smaller passenger and vehicle load.

"The fact is that Americans have been squandering the infrastructure legacy bequeathed to us by earlier generations. Like the spoiled offspring of well-off parents, we behave as though we have no idea what is required to sustain the quality of our daily lives. Our electricity comes to us via a decades-old system of power generators, transformers and transmission lines-a system that has utility executives holding their collective breath on every hot day in July and August. We once had a transportation system that was the envy of the world. Now we are better known for our congested highways, second-rate ports, third-rate passenger trains and a primitive air traffic control system. Many of the great public works projects of the 20th century-dams and canal locks, bridges and tunnels, aquifers and aqueducts, and even the Eisenhower interstate highway system-are at or beyond their designed life span." 

We have failed both to maintain existing infrastructure and to create a bold vision that should have carried American transportation into the new century.

Most importantly, we are expecting older roads and bridges to support not only a larger number of vehicles, but also a substantial upsurge in vehicle weight and size.

According to the Federal Highway Administration, truck registrations have more than doubled since 1992. Here are the national numbers:

Vehicle Registrations in 2005

Total number of automobiles - 136,568,083
Total number of trucks - 103,818,838
Total number of vehicles – 241,193,974

Vehicle Registrations in 1992

Total number of automobiles – 144,213,429
Total number of trucks – 45,504,067
Total number of vehicles – 190,962,228

These statistics represent the increased use of "trucks" (SUVs, flat beds, minivans) as private vehicles.

Once again, the solution could be to continue to build new roads to sustain an endlessly expending vehicle load. Or we could combine essential road maintenance with serious investment in alternative modes of transportation. That is, invest in rail and smart growth planning to reduce the burden of our car-obsessed lifestyles.

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