A nation's economic health depends on the interaction
of the economies of its various geographic regions. Transportation routes
determine the level of interaction between different geographic areas and
the nature of the economies of these areas. The greatest growth occurs
along the most state-of-the-art transportation routes. During much of the
19th Century railroads determined which cities could grow and which could
not. Today Interstate type highways determine where most non-agriculturally
based growth occurs.
The Interstate Highway System designed in the
decade following World War II is no longer adequate to handle the nation's
transportation needs. Many routes are overcrowded. The lack of direct Interstate
connections between many major cities forces motorists to rely on more
dangerous 2-lane highways or travel many extra fuel-consuming, pollution-producing
miles on indirect Interstate routes. For example, the only 4-lane route
between Houston and Kansas City requires a detour through Dallas which
is over sixty miles west of Houston.
The Interstate system has been encouraging
economic development along its routes for the last 20 years. Expanding
the system would increase the nation's potential for economic growth. The
most significant population shift during the last 30 years has been from
areas lacking Interstate highways to areas along Interstate routes. Increasing
the number of freeways would open larger areas of the country to growth
and reduce population pressure on major cities.
Economic development follows major transportation
routes. The Roman Empire's economic system was held together by its excellent
road network. Early economic growth in the United States occurred along
major rivers and canals.
Construction of railroad lines in the northern
states prior to the Civil War sparked economic growth that increased the
potential military power of the area. The lack of a comparable rail network
in the southern states kept the south in a subordinate economic role before
and after the war.
Construction of transcontinental railroads
and spur routes in Kansas after the Civil War caused the population to
balloon from 343,000 in 1870 to 1.4 million in 1890. In some cases the
populations of entire villages moved from Europe to Kansas and other prairie
Roads, including privately owned toll roads,
aided travel through rural areas early in the nation's history. The development
of the railroads during the 19th century with their higher speed reduced
the need for a further development of a normal rural road network until
the turn of the century. Bicyclists provided the first impetus for rural
road improvements. In the decade before World War I, automobile owners
added their support for a rural highway system.
Associations of cities formed to mark the first
national "highways" for inclusion in touring guides for adventuresome automobile
owners who wanted some place else to drive their vehicles. These routes
were eventually paved. The federal role in rural road funding began with
programs to improve rural mail delivery. The federal government eventually
required the uniform numbering of national highways.
After World War II General Dwight Eisenhower
and others began pushing for establishment of the current Interstate Highway
System of national 4-lane freeways and turnpikes. The ability to move military
vehicles along the German Autobahn impressed Eisenhower during the war
and Congress voted to finance similar highways as a defense measure during
Interstate Highways greatly improved highway
safety and stimulated the interstate trucking industry. The ability to
travel long distances without unnecessary stops improved fuel economy and
reduced travel time. Trucks could deliver goods at a predetermined time
for a lower cost.
Highway transportation is particularly important
for small companies that seldom ship more than a truckload of products
to a given area. Railroad companies prefer to deal with companies that
ship goods by boxcar loads or even train loads. Trucks provide greater
flexibility than railroads. A truck can carry small amounts of goods directly
to the doors of businesses in several different towns.
Trucks have replaced trains as the desired
mode of transportation for many businesses. Trucks offer more flexible
shipping and often lower cost shipping. Many goods shipped by rail must
be transported by truck to the final destination.
Trains generally are more effective for transporting
large orders of goods from warehouse to warehouse or for transporting bulk
goods such as grain or coal. Intercity trucks have an advantage for smaller
shipments because goods can be moved directly from supplier to individual
customers without the cost of transferring goods from railroad cars to
local delivery trucks. Supplier owned trucks can transport goods at any
time, including sending special shipments in response to rush orders. Railroad
companies schedule train movements at times that may not always be convenient
for suppliers. Trains can transport truck trailers between major cities,
but as part of a truck the trailers use highways to reach final destinations
which may be in a smaller community that lacks the facility to load and
unload trailers from trains.
Trains can move large quantities of goods from
terminal to terminal with lower labor costs per item then trucks. Trucks
face lower costs for repair and maintenance of roadways. Shippers must
ultimately pay various transportation company costs. Shippers generally
pay the full cost of railroad maintenance because railroads rely almost
totally upon freight shipments for revenue. Buses and individually owned
passenger cars pay a portion of the user taxes that finance highway maintenance
thus reducing such costs for those who ship goods by truck.
State and local governments often levy general
revenue taxes on privately owned railroad tracks. Trucks use government
owned highways that have no tax liabilities. In many communities, taxes
assessed on railroad property help finance maintenance of local streets.
Reliance on trucks instead of trains for transportation
allows more control over costs. A company can choose to operate its own
trucks, but not its own trains. A company does not have to pay the administrative
costs(including advertising) of another company hired to transport goods
or worry about some other company raising the price of transporting goods.
Relying on trucks means greater competition for a shipper's business because
several companies and individual truck owner/operators may serve a given
route. Many routes are served by only one railroad company.
Politicians occasionally talk about running
government like a business. However, few of them really look at a nation
and its government like an economic enterprise.
Individual businesses think of capital goods
as items like office buildings or manufacturing equipment. For a nation,
capital goods include items like transportation systems and waste disposal
systems. Many facilities like public highways can only be provided by government.
Businesses generate revenue through the sale
of goods and services. Profit depends on receiving revenue that exceeds
Government revenue depends on tax collections.
Spending programs that generate increases in tax collections exceeding
the cost of the program can be described as profitable. The Interstate
Highway program has been one of the few federal programs that have probably
generated a profit during the last 30 years(the space program is another).
Fuel tax revenues have increased because Interstates facilitate intercity commerce. General tax revenue increases have included the following tax sources:
construction workers pay and construction company profits;
individual pay and company profits for those supplying construction workers with food, housing, and other goods and services;
taxes on those servicing the increased traffic generated by the freeway, including construction of service facilities;
taxes generated by new construction in communities along Interstate routes;
improved profits and payroll increases, including higher pay and new employees, of companies using Interstates to improve productivity and sales;
new jobs and businesses made possible by the ability to use Interstate highways for reliable transportation;
and increased jobs and growth of existing non-highway
related businesses in communities along Interstate routes.
Interstates reduce the cost of shipping goods
by highway. Vehicles using Interstates can travel at a constant speed from
one city to another. Truck drivers can be more productive because they
don't have to waste time waiting for traffic lights or slow traffic. A
vehicle traveling at a constant speed uses less fuel, produces less pollution,
and experiences less wear and tear on its engine, brakes, transmission,
Accident rates along highway routes have declined
substantially when the route has been upgraded from 2-lanes to Interstate
standards. Accidents increase business costs by increasing insurance and
other accident related costs and through the lost time for recovery, repairs,
or replacement of employees and vehicles.
Interstates provide a more reliable means of
transportation, especially for distances of only 100 to 200 miles. A company
can guarantee shipment of goods at a specific time on the same day. This
capability can be particularly important for companies that supply replacement
parts or that serve companies wishing to receive product components as
needed rather than having to invest money in maintaining a large inventory.
Unfortunately for many communities and businesses
the Interstate system only serves part of the country. Some parallel Interstate
routes are hundreds of miles apart. Even in heavily populated New York,
I-81 and I-87 are over 100 miles apart.
Communities in the gaps between Interstates
are losing population because few companies will locate new facilities
in areas far away from Interstates. This decline hurts businesses in larger
cities that provide goods and services to the declining communities. The
lack of opportunities in the gaps forces people to move to larger cities
forcing local housing costs up and swelling the ranks of the unemployed.
Filling in the gaps between existing Interstates
would spur economic growth in smaller communities whose residents and businesses
would then purchase goods and services from larger cities.
Last year Congress approved funds for a feasibility
study of a proposed extension of I-66 that would run through Kentucky and
southern Missouri and end in San Luis Obispo, California. Other routes
Some cities lack direct Interstate, or other
freeway, connections. Traffic between St. Louis and Cincinnati must first
go north to Indianapolis or use a 2-lane highway. Traffic between Houston
and Kansas City must travel as far west as Dallas to find an Interstate
Creating more direct routes would reduce fuel
consumption and air pollution.
Some Interstates are so congested that an otherwise
minor accident can create a major pile-up. Establishing alternate routes
for some traffic would reduce maintenance costs and injury causing accidents.
Routes allowing some traffic to bypass major cities would be particularly
Filling in the gaps, creating more direct routes,
and reducing congestion would reduce the cost of transporting goods within
the country and improve the ability of American companies to compete with
Any business wishing to keep up with competitors
must continually modernize its facilities. Hamburger stands in the fifties
succeeded by having customers pick up their hamburgers at a walk-up window
and take their food back to the car to eat. In the sixties, such a business
had to add indoor seating to remain near the top in sales. By the late
seventies, customers could pick up their orders, which might include other
types of sandwiches, at a drive-up window.
Today the leading hamburger restaurants offer
breakfast menus and some have salad bars. Many of the fifties style hamburger
stands still operate successfully, but they pose no real threat to the
A nation that wants to continue to grow must
continue to upgrade its facilities, particularly its transportation systems.
automakers are spending billions to upgrade their facilities. The United
States government should follow their example and spend billions to upgrade
its highway transportation system.
The federal government is spending billions
to develop military systems that may not work properly and may not be needed
for national defense. The federal government is spending billions on social
programs that make poverty less painful, but do not eliminate the unemployment
and underemployment that cause poverty. Why can't the federal government
afford to spend billions on freeway construction that will create jobs
directly, encourage economic growth in rural areas with dying economies,
reduce fuel consumption and pollution, and allow safer travel for children
born long after current military hardware has become obsolete.
Some northeastern politicians like Senator
Daniel Patrick Moynihan(D, New York) claim the Interstate system encouraged
people to leave their states for other areas of the country. Such a claim
ignores the fact that the type of transportation available does not affect
whether people will move to an area that appears to offer greater economic
opportunity. In recent years Haitians have been leaving their country in
leaky boats because they no longer consider it a desirable place to live.
People have left the northeastern states for the same reasons.
Transportation affects the commerce of an area.
Commercial activity in turn helps determine whether people consider an
area an attractive place to live. The Roman road network attracted commerce
and people to Rome. Interstate highways can carry traffic both ways. Interstates
provide cities with the potential for growth.
New York's economy has not suffered because
the nation has too many Interstate type highways, but instead because New
York state has too few. New York, and most other states, needs to create
an intrastate freeway network to allow its smaller cities to support economic
activity that would enhance the economies of the larger cities.
The economies of large cities are not self
supporting. Large cities thrive by providing services to the surrounding
area. In general the larger the city the larger the area needed to support
its economy. The economy of a city the size of New York City depends on
the nation, if not the world, as a whole to support it.
We need at least two new east-west and four
or more new north-south transcontinental Interstates as well as various
The proposed I-66 route would allow cross country
traffic to bypass most major cities. A route along U.S. 50 -- U.S. 54 from
Jefferson City, Missouri, to El Dorado, Kansas -- would provide the most
direct freeway route connecting the District of Columbia, Cincinnati, St.
Louis, Wichita, and San Francisco.
One north-south route would connect Jacksonville,
Florida; Augusta, Georgia; and Toledo, Ohio. A second would run through
central Louisiana; Little Rock, Arkansas; and St. Paul,
The third would run along U.S. 41 from Chicago,
Illinois, to Evansville, Indiana, and then use a series of state highways
to Mobile, Alabama. One, or possibly two, routes would run from Mexico
to Canada through western Texas.
One or two routes might be added through the
Secretary of Transportation Samuel Skinner
has indicated support for an Interstate route along U.S. 71 from Shreveport,
Louisiana, to Kansas City. Other regional routes could include, but not
be limited to:
St. Louis, Missouri, to St. Paul, Minnesota, through Dubuque, Iowa;
Houston, Texas, to Omaha, Nebraska, through Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Topeka, Kansas;
U.S. 81 from Salina, Kansas, to the intersection with I-29 in South Dakota;
Memphis, Tennessee, to Fayetteville, North Carolina; Augusta, Georgia, to Macon, Georgia, then along U.S. 80 to its intersection with I-20;
U.S. 36 from Indianapolis, Indiana, to Denver, Colorado;
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Omaha, Nebraska, through Canton, Ohio, and Peoria, Illinois;
Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Nashville, Tennessee;
along the Atlantic Coast from New Jersey through South Carolina using U.S. 13 and U.S. 17;
U.S. 82 from Montgomery, Alabama, to Las Cruces, New Mexico;
U.S. 395 from Pendleton, Oregon, to San Bernardino, California;
U.S. 97 from the Canadian border to Weed, California;
Chicago, Illinois to Idaho Falls, Idaho, through Riverton, Wyoming;
U.S. 2 west of I-75;
and U.S. 93 from the Canadian border to I-15 in Nevada.
Last year's federal highway legislation was
inadequate. President George Bush's proposed National Highway System could
reduce the number of rural highways receiving federal aid and allow individual
states too much discretion to determine which routes become freeways and
which remain 2-lane highways. Governor Bill Clinton has proposed spending
substantially more on highways, but has not indicated whether or not he
wants to expand the Interstate system. If he attempts to increase spending
faster than highway contractors can expand construction capacity, he may
only succeed in increasing the construction costs. If the demand for construction
services exceeds the supply of those services, the lack of competition
for jobs will allow contractors to submit higher bids.
Congress approaches highway legislation backwards.
Congress places funds for minor pork-barrel projects of interest to individual
cities in its bills, but ignores the need for multi-state route improvements.
The practice encourages wasteful spending. Members of Congress lack the
time to evaluate the proposals they support and instead rely on requests
from local leaders who may suggest projects that sound good, but which
should have a lower priority than other projects.
Congress should leave decisions about intrastate
or intracity projects to the states and cities involved so that an Act
of Congress is not needed to change funding designated for inappropriate
projects. Funding for local projects should be through some form of revenue
sharing that distributes federal funds equally among the various states
and cities. Congress might set construction standards for projects using
Highway engineers should not be assigned the
task of determining where to place road improvements or evaluating the
relative merits of different highway projects. Highway engineers generally
only have specialized training in the narrow field of highway construction
and maintenance. Decisions about where to place road improvements requires
an understanding of fields like economics and sociology and should be handled
by those with a background in economic geography or urban planning.
Several years ago Pennsylvania highway officials
proposed replacing two 2-lane highway routes east of Pittsburgh with a
new freeway located between the two existing routes. The proposal would
have destroyed the economies of the communities along the existing highways
who would have lost some of the economic benefits the highways provided
and would have destroyed the rural Amish countryside that the new freeway
would have run through. Protests discouraged adoption of the proposal,
but the situation does demonstrate the need to consider social needs when
planning transportation projects.
Local governments should have the discretion
to use federal highway money for mass transit systems, but the money should
be distributed evenly among cities and each city should have the discretion
to use its money for roads, new mass transit systems, or operational subsidies
of existing mass transit systems. Congress should not give special preference
to some cities for construction of new mass transit systems. This practice
essentially rewards cities that failed to construct such systems earlier
and penalizes cities that financed construction of their own systems decades
ago. Operational subsidies for existing systems would do more to encourage
use of public transportation than construction of new systems that take
a decade or more to complete and then only serve a portion of the community.
Legislation authorizing specific projects should
specify major highway, or mass transit, routes serving several states.
Funding should reflect national and regional needs without making any effort
to equalize funding among the states. The benefits a given state receives
from a freeway depends on what other parts of the nation the freeway connects
the state's cities with. Major cities along state borders may receive as
many benefits from freeways through adjoining states as from freeways within
The federal government financed construction
of western railroads after the Civil War to connect the east and west coasts
rather than to benefit the intervening states. Federal financing of freeways
should emphasize connecting distant parts of the country. Whether and how
the intervening states benefit will depend on local factors.
Those who complain about the cost of freeway construction ignore the fact that freeways provide permanent benefits for many companies across large sections of the country. The federal government has lost more revenue from granting tax breaks capable of providing only a temporary, if any, positive benefit to some companies. Much of the money from tax breaks enacted during the last ten years was squandered on construction of large urban office buildings that provided space greatly exceeding the demand for such space. Private business is spending billions to modernize production facilities. The federal government needs to spend billions to upgrade the nation's transportation facilities.
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