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Our Dying Freeways

— If you only read one magazine story about transportation this year, read this one. Car and Driver magazine did an investigative report called the State of the Union’s Roads. They say the interstate highway system is falling apart and we don’t have nearly enough money to fix it.

The problem is two-fold. First there’s the sheer size of the system that needs to be maintained.

“At 48,000 miles, the interstate system is the greatest, most expansive, most expensive public-works project our country has ever built,” wrote reporter Zach Rosenberg.

Second, there’s the stress of carrying more and more automobiles. Bridges, like the one that collapsed in Minneapolis four years ago, are especially stressed and vulnerable. The Tappan Zee Bridge, which crosses the Hudson River in suburban New York City, was built to handle 18,000 cars a day. It now carries 150,000.

There are some obvious solutions to the problem. We have to stop expanding freeways that are already more than we can maintain. We also have to find a way to pay for what we already have. That comes down to raising the gas tax and creating more toll roads.

Car and Driver pointed out that the gas tax is levied on a gallon of gas… not on a dollar of gas. That means gas tax revenues that pay for road repair don’t rise with inflation. In fact, the popularity of high gas-mileage cars means tax revenues may actually go down, rather than up.

Toll roads are being used in all parts of the country, but if we expect to continue our reliance on cars they have to become a much bigger part of our freeway inventory.

The rest is simple. People have to walk more, bike more, take more public transit and not make their lives dependent on freeway commutes. The American interstate highway system was imagined and created at a time that was very different from today. Car and Driver argues it’s gotten out of control, and it’s a system that’s in sore need of a fix.


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