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Interstates creaking with age at 50

By enelson
Thursday, June 29th, 2006 at 11:01 am in Misc. Transportation.

Transportation California, a nonprofit that promotes “sound transportation policies,” i.e., pavement = contracts and jobs for the business and labor entities that belong to TC, sent out a press release today marking the actual day that President Eisenhower signed the bill that created the Interstate Highway system 50 years ago.


The group says the sytem is the “ultimate Baby Boomer” and like others of its generation, it needs an increasing level of care. It also saves 550 lives a year (compared to, say, just using two-lane, oncoming-traffic type roads) and reaps $2,766 a year in economic benefits for each Californian:

But the benefits 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’s urban Interstates are considered congested.

“The Interstate Highways, like a lot of Californians born after World War II, are facing a number of health problems that need to be addressed–sooner rather than later,” said Doug Aadland, chairman of Transportation California.

But with population, annual miles traveled and commerce continuing to grow, California’s budgets have been stressed to maintain the system of 2,458 miles and 3,761 bridges: 38 percent of state Interstate highways are rated in poor or mediocre condition, and a quarter of the state’s bridges are rated deficient. California has the fifth greatest percentages of deficient bridges in the country.

Is a transportation angioplasty in California’s future?

Well, as a matter of fact, there’s a $20 billion transportation bond on the November ballot. It won’t fix everything, but it will certainly do more than has been in quite a while. Or so I’ve been told.

The release touts the TRIP report, which lays out the history of the Interstate System and details how it’s failing to keep up:

From 1990 to 2004, vehicle travel on Interstate highways increased by 51 percent from 479 billion miles traveled annually to 721 billion miles. Yet during the same 1990 to 2004 period, total lanes miles on the nation’s Interstate system increased by six percent, from 198,164 miles to 210,815 miles. The result of this substantial increase in travel on the nation’s Interstate system with considerably less increase in Interstate lane mileage, is that these highways are now carrying ignificantly
more traffic than in the past. In fact, the average annual amount of travel per Interstate lane-mile has increased by 42 percent from 1990 to 2004.

Then comes this reaction to the TRIP study from California Assembly Transportation Chair Jenny Oropeza (D-Carson):

“Reinvesting in our future highways is precisely
the aim of this week’s budget actions to fully fund
Proposition 42, the voter-approved measure to earmark gas
taxes for transportation projects,” she said. “We also are
paying back earlier loans and will be making significant new
investments with passage of the nearly $20 billion bond on
the November ballot.”
· “These investments, however, must be accompanied by
parallel commitments to offset environmental impacts of
increased travel and construction,” Oropeza added. “Highways
are only part of the solution to our transportation
challenges. The expanded use of mass transit will also be
critical in the long term in solving our traffic problems.

Ok, so the interstates are clogged. We’re trying to fix them. But the line that Bay Area transportation officials are fond of repeating is that in urban areas, the freeways are “built out to the sound walls,” and besides extending an exit ramp her and there, which can help a lot, there isn’t a whole lot that can be done to expand the system, unless you want more Cypress Structures.

So that leaves us cityfolk with finding other ways to get around to add capacity, not replace capacity, on our freeways.

Perhaps it hasn’t quite sunk in yet, but when it routinely takes two hours to get across the Bay Bridge, it surely will.

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2 Responses to “Interstates creaking with age at 50”

  1. Joel B. Says:

    From the linked article, it seems to suggest that double decker freeways built on bedrock is not as dangerous as the soft mud, that the 880 freeway was built on, perhaps Double Deckers could work.

    I think to, the better way for DDs to be built is to have DDs have entrances and exits far less often than the lower level, as opposed to the current one direction on top, one on bottom. So, perhaps you could only get down to the lower lever every 10 miles. This would make it that, the potential for merging related traffic could be greatly reduced, and make the DDs more express structures.

  2. Inside Bay Area > The Capricious Commuter > they said it in 1957, luckily for us Says:

    […] was the year after President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a bill creating the Interstate Highway System, the transport system that shapes our society […]

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