Why I worry about Highway Infrastructure in the good ole USA

By: Jerry Nix | Freewavemaker, LLC

Date Published: Thursday, August 31, 2023

The Eisenhower Interstate System took 35 years to complete. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which authorized the construction of the system, was signed into law by President Eisenhower on June 29, 1956. The last section of the system was completed in 1991.

The system was originally planned to be completed in 10 years, but it took longer than expected due to a number of factors, including:

  • The need to acquire land for the highways
  • The difficulty of building highways through mountainous and other difficult terrain
  • The need to coordinate the construction of highways across multiple states
  • The rising cost of construction

Despite the challenges, the Eisenhower Interstate System was a major engineering feat that profoundly impacted the United States. The system has helped to improve transportation efficiency, reduce traffic congestion, and boost economic growth. It is also a major factor in the development of the American suburbs.

Here are some other interesting facts about the Eisenhower Interstate System:

  • The system has a total length of 47,997 miles (77,259 km).
  • The system includes 114 separate interstate highways.
  • The system is the largest public works project in American history.
  • The system cost an estimated $425 billion to build.

The system is maintained by the states, but the federal government provides 90% of the funding for maintenance.

The Eisenhower Interstate System is a vital part of the American transportation infrastructure. It is a testament to the ingenuity and determination of American engineers and builders. It is also a reminder of the importance of public investment in infrastructure.

Now when you put the pencil to it …

To build 47,997 miles of highway in a period of just 35 years – and assuming the people that did the building worked every day of the week (365 days per year) with no time off – that would be a total of 3.75 miles of highway built, from scratch, per day.

The cost to build this system ended up costing about $88,547,200 per mile. And remember, this is back when a dollar was more closely valued to a dollar.

So, why am I now worried about it?

Well let’s face the facts, things are not done – let’s say – as efficient today as they were between the 1950s and 1990s in this country; even though we have better technology working for us nowadays.

The screenshot below shows about an 8 to 10-mile section of US Highway 49 from Interstate 20 to Florence, Mississippi.

I moved to Mississippi in the summer of 1995. A project was started around 1997 to widen this highway by adding one lane southbound and one lane northbound so that there were three lanes on each side to improve traffic flow in and out of Jackson.

This section of highway was literally blocked off and detoured from about 2000 through 2022 … a period of about 22 years to get the job done.

Think about that for a moment … 22 years to complete a stretch of road less than 10 miles long when it took only 35 years to build the entire 47,997 miles of the Eisenhower Interstate System over and through mountains and lakes and the swamps of Louisiana and other states.

What Changed?

The technology was better. The earth-moving equipment was better. The traffic, of course, was a lot heavier – I’m sure. But come on… 22 years for less than 10 miles of two lanes?

I went searching for an answer …

This was my question at the outset of my search:

What is the average amount of time it takes today in 2023 to tear down and rebuild 3.75 miles of highway on an interstate?

Here are the answers I uncovered (and I don’t agree with much of them):

The average amount of time it takes to tear down and rebuild 3.75 miles of highway on an interstate in 2023 is 6 to 8 months. However, the actual time could vary depending on a number of factors, as I mentioned earlier.

Here are some of the factors that could affect the time it takes to tear down and rebuild a highway:

  • The type of highway: The type of highway will affect the amount of time it takes to tear down and rebuild. For example, highways with more lanes or more complex interchanges will take longer to rebuild. I don’t disagree with this … but let’s remember the interstate system has a lot of lanes, a lot of interchanges, entrances, and exits, and runs over, through, and around mountains and water. How much more complex can you get?
  • The condition of the highway: The more severely damaged the highway is, the longer it will take to tear down and rebuild. I don’t agree with this; the interstate system was started from scratch and about 3.75 miles (or actually more since they did not work 365 days per year) was built in a day.
  • The traffic volume: The amount of traffic on the highway will affect the amount of time it takes to tear down and rebuild the highway. If the highway is heavily trafficked, it may be necessary to close the highway to traffic during the construction process, which will add to the amount of time it takes. This may hold some merit considering that the average number of cars per family in the 50’s was 1.9 as compared to 2.9 today (a 53% increase over the past 70 years). In addition, when the interstate system was being built the entire road was closed until a long stretch of highway was completed.
  • The weather: Bad weather can delay or even stop construction projects. This I totally disagree with considering that the weather (unlike how the climate change activist may feel) has not really changed that much over the past 70 years.

In addition to the factors mentioned above, the availability of materials and equipment, and the complexity of the project can also affect the amount of time it takes to tear down and rebuild a highway. Again, I disagree … simply put time and technology have improved the availability of materials and equipment to build a road or rebuild a road.

Here are some specific examples of highway reconstruction projects that have taken 6 to 8 months to complete:

  • The reconstruction of I-95 in Virginia took 8 months to complete. The project involved rebuilding 15 miles of highway. IN OTHER WORDS, ONLY 0.06 MILES PER DAY WAS COMPLETED.
  • The reconstruction of I-80 in Pennsylvania took 7 months to complete. The project involved rebuilding 10 miles of highway. IN THIS CASE, ONLY 0.04 MILES PER DAY WAS COMPLETED.
  • The reconstruction of I-40 in North Carolina took 6 months to complete. The project involved rebuilding 12 miles of highway. HERE, ONLY 0.06 MILES PER DAY WAS COMPLETED.

I hope this helps!

Well, it really does not help. Not once was the real problem mentioned. It seems that with better equipment, and improved material, the average time to repair a road today in the world in which we live is about ½ mile per day … if people work.

And, therein lies the problem … IF PEOPLE WORK.

People just don’t work today as they did in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and part of the 90s. Have you ever driven by a road construction site and seen perhaps one man working while 5 stand around and watch him? I sure have.

Have you passed a construction site on a Saturday, or Sunday and seen equipment sitting idle with no one around? I sure have. I’ve actually seen equipment sitting idle with no one working on the highway/road project for days or weeks at a time … even in good weather on normal work days of Monday through Friday.

When I was a young man in the 1980s in Wichita Falls, Texas I had a client that lived on a farm in Henrietta, Texas. He did not farm the land. Why? He had a bulldozer that the state paid about $180,000 per year to lease for highway construction then paid him $100,000 per year to drive it. Think about it … 5 days per week that would be almost $1,100 per day for him and his equipment. It was hard to visit with this man because he was always working on a road moving dirt someplace in the State. He did not care if it was raining, snowing, burning hot or freezing cold. He had to be out there moving that dirt which paid him a whole lot more at the time than farming ever would.

Of course, the diesel fuel that was required to run the bulldozer was a lot less expensive then, than it is now, as well. But I am certain states pay a lot more to lease the equipment and pay the driver more now, than they did in the 1980s, as well. In 1980 the cost of one gallon of diesel was $1.11 as compared to about $4.57 now (an increase of 406% over the past 43 years).

The simple fact is … people refuse to work today the way they did 40, 50 or 60 years ago. If they don’t want to work with equipment designed to do most of the work, then you must know that physical labor is totally out of the question – for most Americans. We’ve grown to be a lazy bunch of people, for the most part. Yet, when foreigners cross our “open borders” and seek work – any kind of work – we are the first to complain that “they are taking our jobs.” Well, they are not taking them, if we refuse to work in the jobs in the first place.

What would I like to see?

Before we invest billions or trillions of dollars in infrastructure projects, we as a country must be willing to get back to work. Sometimes this must be “hard work.” It all has to start with education.

In 2018 I wrote an article about “Whatever Happened to Shop Classes in High School” that you can read by clicking on the link above. Why don’t we teach construction trades in high school anymore if we are really serious about maintaining the infrastructure in this great country?

If we don’t get back to basics our infrastructure is going to continue to fall apart, regardless of how much money we put into it. If we don’t teach people how … they never will be able to keep up … and it will continue to take longer and longer to get things done.

This scares the hell out of me. Unfortunately, it does not scare the politicians who continue to throw good money into bad investments. And here I am only talking about highway infrastructure. Don’t get me started on the electrical grids that are even in worse shape and continue to deteriorate.

That’s it for now other than one more point. If you have kids that are not college material (and not all are) … please encourage them to get involved in trades that will help this country out tremendously.

Have a great day!

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