U.S. Road Conditions and Performance in 2020


While Americans drove their cars only 84 percent as many miles in 2020 as in 2019, according to data recently published by the Federal Highway Administration, they drove semi-trucks 101 percent as many miles. These and other data are from the 2020 Highway Statistics, an annual compilation of data on the condition, use, and financial status of the nation’s highway network.

Click here to download a four-page PDF of this policy brief.

Unlike the annual National Transit Database, which the Federal Transit Administration releases as a group of two dozen or so tables together each fall, the Federal Highway Administration releases Highway Statistics incrementally. To date, it has released most of the 2020 tables relating to the extent and performance of highways, but very few financial tables. This policy brief will review some of the non-financial tables that have been released.

Much of the data are divided into functional systems, which include interstate freeways, other freeways, other principal arterials, minor arterials, major collectors, minor collectors, and local roads and streets. These are further broken down into urban and rural. Over time, the number of urban roads has grown, but not entirely because of new construction: some of the growth is due to expansion of urban areas. For example, in many years the number of rural interstate freeways declines because some of the highways have been reclassified as urban roads.

Urban Transit and Driving

One of the tables in Highway Statistics shows the amount of driving people did in each of each of the nation’s 493 urban areas of more than 50,000 people. This can be compared with transit data for those same urban areas to reveal the pandemic’s influence on travel. A table below shows the results for the nation’s largest urban areas; a downloadable file shows the results for all urban areas.

To make the table, a few adjustments were necessary. Most important, the National Transit Database presents passenger-miles for the fiscal years of each transit agency, but I wanted calendar year data to compare with Highway Statistics. The transit data also includes passenger trips by month that can be totaled by calendar year. I converted calendar year trips to passenger miles by multiplying the number of trips carried by each agency and mode by the average length of each trip (passenger miles divided by trips) in the 2019 and 2020 databases.

Using this method, the number of passenger miles carried by transit in calendar year 2019 was 54.14 billion. This compares with 54.10 billion carried in transit agency fiscal years 2019. Similarly, the number of passenger miles carried in calendar year 2020 was 23.46 billion compared with 31.55 billion in fiscal years 2020. The larger difference in 2020 is because most transit agency fiscal years included only three to six months of the pandemic.

Read the rest of this piece at The Antiplanner.

Randal O’Toole, the Antiplanner, is a policy analyst with nearly 50 years of experience reviewing transportation and land-use plans and the author of The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future.

Photo: Richard Klein, via Flickrunder CC 2.0 License.