Transportation trivia

Published March 1, 1990  | March 1990 issue

Federal capital investment in infrastructure has fallen from approximately 2.3 percent of gross national product in 1960 to 1.2 percent in 1985.


  • Of the nation's 576,508 bridges, 230,620, or 40 percent, are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
  • Currently, 148,356 bridges are posted or should be posted for lower weights; another 5,254 bridges are closed to traffic. About 150 bridges collapse, buckle or sag each year.
  • Total cost to replace or repair all deficient bridges in the federal-aid system: $67 billion. Total federal allocation: $1.63 billion per year from 1987 to 1991, a 20 percent drop from previous annual authorizations.


  • The Interstate highway system is a 42,500-mile network that represents 1 percent of all roads, streets and highways in the country and carries 20 percent of all vehicle miles of traffic.
  • More than 2.5 million miles of rural roads are the exclusive financial responsibility of states and local jurisdiction.
  • Estimated cost of building a four-lane highway to federal standards: $1.3 million per mile; two-lane highway: $600,000 per mile.
  • Road travel increased 7.6 percent from 1983 to 1985; the average annual rate is expected to increase 2.85 percent until the year 2000.
  • The state of South Dakota, as an example, spends $4,000 per mile each year to maintain its two-lane road system.
  • Traffic delays on state highways are projected to increase 174 percent by 1995, with the number of licensed motorists and registered vehicles to grow by more than 25 percent by 2000.
  • Forty-six states have raised their gas tax in the last 10 years, 17 in 1988 and 14 in 1987.


  • U.S. airline passengers grew from 169 million to 381 million between 1970 and 1985.
  • No new major airports have been built in the United States since 1974. Total airport investment needs may exceed $24 billion in the next 10 years.
  • Worldwide forecasts indicate that air travel will double 1986 levels by the year 2000, and double again by 2020.
  • In 1970, nearly half of all airline passengers traveled on routes dominated by one airline. Today that figure is 20 percent.
  • In the first 10 years of airline deregulation—between 1978 and 1988—air travelers saved about $100 billion.
  • Adjusted for inflation, average airfares in the nation are down 15 percent since 1984 and 26 percent since 1981.
  • From 1978 to 1987, fatal air accidents per million miles traveled declined by 57 percent.


  • Railroad lines declined from 209,826 miles in 1967 to 145,764 miles in 1985.
  • Reduced rail service means industry must increasingly use the nation's roads—many of them rural—to ship produce. For example, as a result of rail abandonments and reduced service, most wood in Minnesota is hauled by truck, requiring new attention to road quality.
  • Amtrak has provided rail passenger service since 1971, when the federal government began subsidizing rail passenger travel and permitted railroads to discontinue their money-losing rail passenger lines.
  • Approximately half of Amtrak's traffic and revenues are generated in a passenger corridor between Washington, D.C., and Boston.
  • In fiscal year 1987, Amtrak carried more than 20 million passengers and generated more than 5 billion passenger miles. Still, Amtrak incurs an annual deficit of about $600 million.

Sources: National Council on Public Works Improvement, U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Fortune, General Accounting Office, Highway Users Federation, Congressional Research Service, South Dakota Department of Transportation.