Highway system turns 50: Does it need a facelift?

Fifty years ago today, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 and launched the interstate highway system.

Today, most of us babyboomers take for granted, gas prices notwithstanding, the ease in which we can zip in our cars from city to city or state to state. My 85-year-old mother-in-law remembers when it took all day to travel in the family car from her childhood home in Oakland over narrow roads into the countryside in Walnut Creek.

In an analysis of a national report released today, a California transportation advocacy group warns that the Golden State is going back to the future.

According to a Transportation California staff review of a national report by the Washington-based TRIP, a national transportation research group, the benefits of the highway system “are now eroding because California has been unable to keep up with the extreme wear and tear and growing traffic congestion on its complex system of Interstate routes and other highways. Travel is increasing at a rate five times faster than Interstate capacity has been added. Today, 75 percent of California‚Äôs urban Interstates are considered congested.”

Heck, and these folks probably haven’t driven on Highway 24 lately, either.

Watch for details of these two studies to appear in campaign materials for Proposition 1B, a November ballot measure that asks voters to authorize the sale of $19.9 billion in bonds for freeway and port improvements.

It’s a fraction of what transportation leaders estimate the state needs to spend in order to catch up with demand. But bonds are the most politically palatable option given the public’s well-known dislike of gas taxes, the traditional source of funds for road maintenance and improvements.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen