T & C: Our impact on Earth; its impact on us – Part 7: As to infrastructure – the shape we’re in

Editor’s note: The “Terms and conditions” series today continues with a discussion on Infrastructure. Environment, mobility, land use, economy, agriculture, health/healthcare, energy, waste and climate have all been covered so far.

So, let’s get to it.

Infrastructure: Infrastructure talk on the Air Quality Matters blog always has to do with the quality or condition of the air. And, today’s discussion is no different. But, we also have to include in this conversation transportation as transportation is the sector that has the largest share of pollutant-emissions releases. As a matter of fact, in 2016, transportation outstripped energy generation in terms of pollutant-emissions output, the first time this has happened since 1978. And, to what do we owe this? Released emissions from American transportation rose; those from the energy sector fell, is what.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), United States Department of Transportation in its Transportation Statistics Annual Report (TSAR) 2017 in “Chapter 1: Extent and Physical Condition of the U.S. Transportation System,” conveys: “In 2016 private and public spending on transportation construction totaled $133.2 billion.”1

America’s transportation infrastructure, meanwhile, has seen some improvement as of late. However, this is not the same as saying said infrastructure is in a state of healthy repair or could not stand to be improved.

That said, it’s time to take a closer look at some of the more important considerations as well as to introduce roadways – a key element in the grand scheme of things transportation infrastructure-speaking.

First, the BTS reported that government covered 90.8 percent of transportation’s construction costs in 2016. The remainder was picked up by private enterprise. About three-fourths of government funding allocation went to highways.2

More specifically, several parameters related directly to roadways and roadway travel and transport are worth investigating further, like how many registered vehicles there are; how many licensed drivers there are; how many miles are being driven on our nation’s roadways annually; and what condition our roadway network is currently in, for example. In terms of where we’re going, each of these factors should at least provide some clue as pertaining to if the approaches presently being used are good enough.

From the same referenced source above, in “Table 1-1 Public Roads and Streets, Lane-Miles, and VMT: 2000, 2010, 2014, and 2015,” shown is that for 2015, “Total, Public Road and Street Mileage by Functional Type mileage (miles)” equals 4,154,727 while from the same table total lane-miles is shown to be 8,736,587. Aggregate VMT (vehicle miles traveled) for 2015 was almost 3.1 trillion.3

Furthermore, from “Table 1-4 Motor Vehicles and Travel: 2000, 2010, 2014, and 2015” it is shown that in 2015 in the U.S. the number of vehicles registered totaled 263,610,219. This is up from 225,821,241 in 2000; 250,070,048 in 2010; and 260,350,938 in 2014.4

Meanwhile, from “Table 1-2 Condition of U.S. Highways: 2014 and 2015 National Highway System” data, it appears in 2015, highway condition improved compared to 2014, though overall road condition in 2015 over what it was the previous year was the worse for wear and even if the degradation is considered marginal at worst, road condition deteriorated nonetheless.

Finally, from the same source, in “Figure 1-4 Trends of Population, Drivers, Vehicles, and VMT: Indexed 1985-2015” population and the number of drivers saw steady increases. With an Index of 1.0 in 1985 (the baseline year), the 2015 Population Index was 1.35 while that for drivers was about 1.39. Relative to drivers and population, the trend for the number of registered vehicles was even sharper, the Index for such rising from 1.0 in 1985 to more than 1.5 in 2015. VMT Index went from 1.0 to about 1.75 in that same period,6 which means, apart from VMT, “[m]otor vehicle registrations have grown at a faster rate than licensed drivers and the population since 1985,” the BTS stated.7

The underlying premise here is VMT, motor vehicle registrations, population and motoring population are all growing, coupled with a declining roadway infrastructure condition.

As to the last, even if only mildly worse, this nevertheless still suggests that the ability for roadway infrastructure to do its job effectively, in 2015 was somewhat less able (to handle the load placed upon it) than in 2014.

Meanwhile, writes Ralph Sims et al. in Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change, Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“Chapter 8 Transport, 8.2 New developments in emissions trends and drivers, 8.2.1 Trends”): “As economies shifted from agriculture to industry to service, the absolute GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions from transport and the share of total GHG emissions by the transport sector have risen considerably. Total LDV [light-duty vehicle] ownership is expected to double in the next few decades from the current level of about 1 billion vehicles.”8 This speaks to said conditions worldwide and not just those in the U.S.

So, regarding how we travel and/or what we travel in and/or what’s available infrastructure-wise in terms of what we travel and transport goods on coupled with what shape said infrastructure is in (and there may be other areas of concern as applied to infrastructure as well), unless and until we shift into higher gear with a radical improvement in such being realized (and this can take any number of forms), then as it has to do with infrastructure condition it is reasonable to assume and expect condition won’t markedly change for the better.


Contemplative point 5: Address traffic congestion in cities by adequately expanding roadway capacity or employ innovative and/or technological approaches like, say, traffic calming and/or traffic signal synchronization or both?

In the “Transportation Emissions Guidebook – Part One: Land Use, Transit & Travel Demand Management,” the authors argue: “Investment in existing transit services improves accessibility and can increase ridership levels, facilitating a reduction in the number of cars on the road, congestion levels and VMT. This results in improvements in regional air quality. In comparison to private vehicle transportation, transit generates fewer criteria pollutants per passenger mile of travel.”9

But what if a city’s objective isn’t so much a reduction in air-pollutant emissions as much as it is improving mobility in particular and quality of life in general, the ultimate aim, of course, being increased productivity, decreased delay and costs arising from that, the impact of such having a stimulating effect on the local economy? Can better transit service and improved access work to do that too?

In the “Transportation Emissions Guidebook,” listed are the following “CO-BENEFITS:

  • reduced exposure to traffic congestion
  • lower costs relative to automobile ownership
  • less land allocated for roadway and parking infrastructure
  • greater mobility choice
  • decreased fuel consumption
  • improved public health and safety
  • increased property values near high quality transit
  • enhanced environmental protection through reduction in air pollution emissions, preservation of land resources, and reduction of water pollution caused by runoff of impervious surfaces”10

The “Transportation Emissions Guidebook” authors, besides listing and discussing various types of alternative transportation modes, cover considerations such as “Targeted Infrastructure Funding,”11 “Road Pricing,”12 “Commuter Incentives,”13 “Pay As You Drive Insurance,”14 and “Green Mortgages,”15 and provide “Overview,” “Policy Quantification,” “Co-benefit,” “Key Issues/Implementation,” “Case Study,” and “Key Resources & References” data for each. The final sections of the “Transportation Emissions Guidebook” contain information on “State & Local Programs” covering programs including smart growth, open space and municipal parking, to name three. Filling out the document is the “Technical Appendix” section.

For more information, see: Transportation Statistics Annual Report (TSAR) 2017 here and Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change here.


  1. “Chapter 1: Extent and Physical Condition of the U.S. Transportation System” of the Transportation Statistics Annual Report (TSAR) 2017 from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, United States Department of Transportation, p. 1-2.
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid, p. 1-4
  4. Ibid, p. 1-8
  5. Ibid, p. 1-5
  6. Ibid, p. 1-9
  7. Ibid, p. 1-7
  8. Sims R., R. Schaeffer, F. Creutzig, X. Cruz-Núñez, M. D’Agosto, D. Dimitriu, M.J. Figueroa Meza, L. Fulton, S. Kobayashi, O. Lah, A. McKinnon, P. Newman, M. Ouyang, J.J. Schauer, D. Sperling, and G. Tiwari, 2014: Transport. In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
  9. Greg Dierkers, Erin Silsbe, Shayna Stott, Steve Winkelman and Mac Wubben, “Transportation Emissions Guidebook – Part One: Land Use, Transit & Travel Demand Management,” from the Center for Clean Air Policy, p. 38
  10. Ibid, p. 40
  11. Ibid, pp. 60-62
  12. Ibid, pp. 63-68
  13. Ibid, pp. 69-73
  14. Ibid, pp. 74-77
  15. Ibid, pp. 78-81

To be continued.

Leave a Comment