System Demands Increase as U.S. Drivers Set New Record in Vehicle Miles Traveled

AASHTO Journal, 22 May 2015

The Federal Highway Administration said U.S. drivers logged an estimated 261.7 billion vehicle-miles-traveled in March of this year, up 3.9 percent from the same month last year and the most miles ever driven in March.

That continues a trend of recent data showing increased vehicle traffic on the nation’s highway system. The FHWA said throughout the first quarter of 2015 motorists drove 720.1 billion VMT, also up 3.9 percent from the 2014 period and the highest level reached for any year’s first quarter.

The previous record high was 705.7 billion VMT in first-quarter 2006.

“The increase in travel on America’s roads underscores the need for greater investment in transportation infrastructure,” the agency said in a May 20 press release.

That came as Congress was still considering a two-month extension of the Highway Trust Fund, which will keep its spending at current levels through July, which is about the time the highway account balance is expected to fall below safe levels.

A number of states have already put road and bridge construction projects on hold this year, due to uncertainty about whether the federal funding share would be available to reimburse them on a timely basis when contractors’ bills roll in. This short-term extension is expected to increase the uncertainty level for state departments of transportation as they continue their 2015 work schedules.

Meanwhile, the FHWA said the traffic volume data from its latest monthly “Traffic Volume Trends” report, shows sharper gains in some regions.

Traffic in the West – a bloc of 13 states including Alaska and Hawaii – increased 5.3 percent over the previous March and marked the 18th consecutive month of increased traffic. Volume in the FHWA’s South Atlantic region that includes seven states and Washington, D.C., rose 5 percent over the previous March.

The state showing the largest year-over-year traffic increase in March was Montana at 9.5 percent, followed closely by South Dakota at 9 percent and Hawaii at 8.2 percent.

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