Infrastructure: Are We Really Ready?

After researching the Eisenhower Interstate System on the internet (again not all of it is believable) I’ve uncovered the fact that it took 35 years to complete 48,181 miles of roadway at a cost of about $425 billion.  Construction started in 1956 so if it ended 35 years later that would be 1991.  This means that some of the road is about 27 years old while other parts of the highway system could be as old as 62 years old.

Keep in mind that most of this interstate system was built prior to modern-day technology that is currently available for heavy construction.  So, if 48,181 miles of highway was built in 35 years … that would be an average of 1,376.6 miles per year or 3.77 miles per day that was constructed.  Now since most roads are not built during bad weather and assuming there is bad weather in some part of the USA every day … we can actually probably double that number and state that 7.5 miles “per work day” was actually built (assuming only 183 workdays per year.

Using the cost of $425 billion … that would actually work out to an average of $8,820,905 per mile of highway.  Keep in mind that the laws for this was not passed until 1956.  However, way back in 1918 when this was first talked about by E. J. Mehren, a civil engineer who dreamed of a 50,000 mile system containing 5 east to west highways and 10 north to south highways – he had estimated the cost then to be $25,000 per mile.

Dwight EIt was Dwight Eisenhower who got the ball rolling on this in 1956 by signing the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 into law.  This is popularly known as the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956.  The initial time frame for the building of this system was 12 years at a cost of $25 billion.  It ended up taking 35 years at a cost of $114 billion and when adjusted for 2006 dollars this is where the $425 billion comes into play.

Although the interstate system was deemed to be completed on October 14, 1992 (my brother’s 40th birthday) it is still, to this day, not completed.  For example both I-95 and I-70 have some areas that were discontinued because of local opposition.  Some of this construction on these two interstates were re-started in 2010.

Because the US Department of Defense was involved there is urban legend that early regulations required that one out of every five miles of the Interstate Highway System must be built straight and flat, so as to be usable by aircraft during times of war. There is no evidence of this rule being included in any Interstate legislation.  However, as one who travels and has traveled a lot of interstate highways I find it ironic that indeed about every 5 to 10 miles you will have long flat straight areas on the road.

How was it all financed?  Answer:  Taxes.

About 70 percent of the construction and maintenance costs of Interstate Highways in the United States have been paid through user fees, primarily the fuel taxes collected by the federal, state, and local governments. To a much lesser extent they have been paid for by tolls collected on toll highways and bridges. The Highway Trust Fund, established by the Highway Revenue Act in 1956, prescribed a three-cent-per-gallon fuel tax, soon increased to 4.5 cents per gallon. Since 1993 the tax has remained at 18.4 cents per gallon.  I see this as a potential increasing tax in the near future as America gets ready to rebuild infrastructure and this being a big part of that rebuild.

The rest of the costs of these highways are borne by general fund receipts, bond issues, designated property taxes, and other taxes. The federal contribution comes overwhelmingly from motor vehicle and fuel taxes (93.5 percent in 2007), as does about 60 percent of the state contribution. However, any local government contributions are overwhelmingly from sources besides user fees. The portion of the user fees spent on highways themselves covers about 57 percent of their costs, with about one-sixth of the user fees being sent to other programs, including the mass transit systems in large cities. Some large sections of Interstate Highways that were planned or constructed before 1956 are still operated as toll roads.

After traveling last week from Clinton, MS to Terlingua, TX and back again on my motorcycle I have become a fan of rebuilding all roads in America.  Considering the pot holes I crossed in Mississippi., Louisiana and West Texas I thought I’d come home and write a letter to the US Department of Transportation.  However, after a few more hours of research I’ve found that the States own and operate the Interstate highways. The one exception is the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge (I-95/495) over the Potomac River in the Washington area (The U.S. Bureau of Public Roads built the bridge under special legislation approved by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in August 1954).  So now it seems I will have to write to the governors of all three states to let them know how ashamed they should be of themselves for allowing the highways to deteriorate to the condition they have.

Like I said, I am a big fan of rebuilding roads and bridges … but here is my chief concern today:

In yesteryear (depending on how you figure it) between 3.7 and 7.5 miles of road was built in a day.  Now a days it seems it takes a year just to repair 3 to 7 miles of road on most interstates … and the technology has gotten better not worse.   Seems to me if the US Government and the States are going to begin this program … they’d better figure a way to import workers to work on it because when I drive by a road construction site now I see 10 hard hats talking and 1 hard hat actually working.

That’s my political rant for today … September 17, 2018


Jerry Nix

5 thoughts on “Infrastructure: Are We Really Ready?

  1. Jim Dodson

    Good research Jerry. Where are they going to get the money!! Cant lerave it up to the Federal government. National debt is trillions of dollars and I sure cant afford to pay for it!

    1. Hi Jim. I guess they will get the money where they always do. From you and me in the form of more taxes. Glad you liked the article and get ready for more delays on the US Highways.


  2. Cedric

    You have really lived up to your retirement plans, way to go…
    Now on this highway issue, good luck with trying to convince those in charge of our roads and highways to fund this and or even listen to you. If they would spend the money on the roads that they spend on engineering studies on the roads, there’s a good possibility you would be writing about this…
    Great writing as well as the data you’ve provided….

    1. Cedric, thanks so much for followimg me and making comments. Of course you are right regarding the engineering studies. The states need to be more like Nike and just “do it” rather than just study it. I probably should write those letters to governors.

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