Last month, our interstate highway system turned 65 years-old, marking over half a century of our nation’s love affair with cars. Today, the United States is now home to millions of miles of roadway, more than any other country on the planet. As a result, Americans drive a lot – over 3.2 trillion miles each year – nearly 10,000 miles per person and more miles per capita than people almost anywhere else in the world.
Even in the face of a global climate crisis — fueled in large part by our nation’s transportation sector — state and local governments continue to spend tens of billions of dollars on new and expanded highways. Beyond climate change, we just had a record-breaking year for vehicle roadway deaths. These startling figures are only matched by our country’s more than half a trillion dollars in accumulated road and bridge repair backlog.
Why are we spending our money expanding a dangerous and unsustainable car-dependent transportation network when we have better options? We simply can’t solve global warming nor resolve our roadway safety issues without changing our transportation spending priorities.
Fortunately, the tide is turning. After years of investments focused on expanding highways at all costs, members of the House passed the INVEST Act, a long-term spending bill that lays the groundwork for how our transportation dollars will be used over the next five years.
Unlike previous federal transportation investments, which have made it easier and cheaper to travel by car, this new legislation seeks to transform transportation by improving safety and ensuring we make the best use of our existing infrastructure by taking a “fix it first” approach, which is also more carbon-conscious. Under this bill, states will only be able to move forward with projects that we can afford to maintain; in other words, no more expanding highways, which require almost $25,000 per lane-mile per year to keep in a state of good repair.
In addition to focusing on repairing our pothole-filled streets and deteriorating bridges, the INVEST Act will also help communities expand active transportation networks that improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Requiring a “complete streets” approach will not only decrease the number of traffic fatalities, but also reduce pollution that harms our health and our climate.
Combining this focus on safety with an effort to electrify our personal and public transit vehicles will encourage more people to replace car trips with cleaner forms of transportation, bringing us one step closer to eliminating transportation pollution.
Alongside President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which continues to move forward, we are setting our country onto a new path — one with safer, more efficient, and more sustainable transportation infrastructure that will benefit all Americans, regardless of where they live.
While the passage of the INVEST Act is hopeful, it’s not the final piece of the transportation puzzle. If we’re going to officially turn the page on our road building obsession, we need to ensure policy makers in the Senate support fix-it-first policies that focus on safety rather than building more highways.