Transportation: America's 'Quiet Crisis'

August 11, 1989

Report Outline
Special Focus


The nation's highways are jammed and falling apart, its airports are overcrowded, and its waterways are in disrepair. Fixing them will be expensive, but not fixing them may be more costly in the long run. At a time when the United States is trying to be more competitive in world markets, neglecting our transportation infrastructure is, as one governor put it, like “shooting ourselves in the foot.”

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It's not as dramatic as a drug war, or even a drought, but the United States is facing a quiet crisis that may have even more far-reaching effects: the aging of the nation's highways, bridges, airports and other transportation infrastructure.

The nation's highways need a huge influx of money, and they need it soon. According to the American Association of State Highway and Transit Officials, annual expenditures would have to increase by 20 percent—from about $80 billion in 1988 to $95 billion—just to maintain the current system in the shape it is in today. Accommodating the expected levels of increased traffic would require an estimated $115 billion. And one way or another, money will be spent. “Surface transportation users face clear-cut choices,” the transit officials' association reported in September 1988. “Either they will spend money for increased operating costa, accidents and delays resulting from failure to improve the system, or they will spend money to improve the system and thereby reduce operating and other costs.”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Motor Traffic and Roads
Water Transportation and Safety