On June 26, 1956, President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act into law. As it began to develop, the new interstate system connected communities, moved traffic more quickly and efficiently, and reduced congestion. Nearly 60 years later, the National Highway System spans about 150,000 miles. America’s transportation policy, however, remains stuck in the 20th century and requires modernization.
From their everyday experience, American motorists easily can identify two problems plaguing our existing transportation system: increased traffic congestion and an aging surface-transportation infrastructure whose deterioration outpaces its repair. David Levinson identifies an antiquated, decades-old approach to transportation policy as the primary culprit of not only these challenges, but also other issues, including pollution, inefficient systems for transportation funding and financing, outdated and insufficient transportation management structures, and the development of unnecessary projects, including infamous bridges to nowhere and countless, lesser-known, empty roads.
How can officials bring transportation policy into the 21st century? Levinson offers several innovative ideas that address the actual needs of our transportation system. Policymakers should begin to restore equity in road funding by phasing in a road pricing system for electric or hybrid vehicles, which provide little or no revenue from gasoline taxes. Federal funding for the National Highway System should be dedicated to the maintenance and repair of the current system, not its expansion. Further, Congress should establish Highway Block Grants to give states and localities greater flexibility to fund roadway maintenance projects. Additionally, rather than being government entities, state transportation authorities could be reconfigured as public utilities, a move that would depoliticize the current system. Policymakers also should seek to meet the needs of consumers, not producers, by replacing mass-transit subsidies with transportation vouchers for those who most need aid. Finally, policymakers should tear down and prevent barriers to transportation innovation, especially with the burgeoning growth of self-driving automobiles, and reform laws to allow for advances in technology.