The $1 Trillion Reason You Shouldn’t Be Allowed to Drive a Car

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Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released its quadrennial report card for America’s infrastructure, and the results are brutal. After examining infrastructure systems from aviation to wastewater, ASCE awarded the U.S. a D+, reflecting mediocre to poor conditions observed across nearly all areas. The highest grade given to any infrastructure category was B- (“good”) for solid waste management. America’s bridges, ports, public parks, and rail system all earned a C (“mediocre”) of one degree or another, while the rest of the 16 categories were given D’s (“poor”).

Among those categories are roads, which earned a solid D. If you spend any time driving — and data suggest that you do — then you already have a good idea why America’s roadways earned such a bad grade. “The infrastructure is in poor to fair condition and mostly below standard, with many elements approaching the end of their service life,” ASCE notes in its grading methodology. “A large portion of the system exhibits significant deterioration. Condition and capacity are of significant concern with strong risk of failure.”

Bad roads are not news to anyone — ASCE has been giving U.S. infrastructure bad grades for decades — but the problems created by these bad roads is getting worse. ASCE estimates that congestion on U.S. roadways costs the economy $101 billion each year in wasted time and fuel. Government estimates compiled by George Washington University indicate that drivers spend 34 hours each year stuck in congestion alone, while drivers in cities can spend up to 90 hours each year in traffic. This is about twice the waste observed in 1980, and left unchecked, it is only expected to get worse as the population increases and the nation continues to urbanize. A separate study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute estimates that congestion cost people 5.5 billion hours in 2011 and burned 2.9 billion gallons of gasoline.

The Federal Highway Administration “estimates that $170 billion in capital investment would be needed on an annual basis to significantly improve conditions and performance,” of which about $91 billion is currently met by federal, state, and local governments. But to blame the roadways themselves, as bad as they are, for the congestion problem wouldn’t really be fair. Although roads and highways could use improvement and are in need of repair to remain functional, the real problem is that there are simply too many people driving too many cars. And to make it worse, as a whole, we’re all pretty bad drivers.