October 9, 2006
Traffic Congestion is one of the few issues that almost all Americans will agree is a problem.
What innovations should we expect under newly-confirmed Transportation Secretary Mary Peters?
Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters, confirmed by the Senate on Sept. 30, is facing a number of challengesfrom transportation safety to congestion issues.
Today, our vital transportation infrastructure is showing signs of aging, said Peters, in the foreword to a new book, Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship and the Future of Roads. We are experiencing increasing congestion on our nation's highways, railways, airports and seaports. And we're robbing our nation of productivity and our citizens of quality time with their families.
Peters experience, culminating in her leadership of both state and federal transportation departments, puts her in a strong position to follow, and develop, the initiative to relieve transportation congestion announced recently by her predecessor Norman Mineta, said transportation economist Gabriel Roth, editor of Street Smart. Her appreciation of market forces suggests that she is also likely to go along with Mr. Mineta's greater reliance on tolls and private sector investment to relieve congestion in the nation's roads and airports.
Crumbling roads, pot holes and heavier traffic across the country have forced transportation policymakers to reassess how to pay for building and maintaining roads.
A new survey by The Road Information Program (TRIP), which advocates more road-building and repair, shows that twenty-six percent of the nations major urban and suburban roads have substandard pavement costing the average urban motorist about $383 annually in (added) vehicle-maintenance costs. The survey also indicates that $15.6 billion is currently needed to keep roads in their current condition and 19.3 billion would be needed to improve them. The government currently spends only about $11.2 billion annually in maintaining roads.
The possibilities of increasing private sector involvement in the provision of roads, which is explored in Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship and the Future of Roads, is a key focus for Peters. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Peters said the federal highway program could run out of money by the end of the decade. "You just can't depend on the federal government to bring the money in that was around when the interstate system was first built," she said.
Gabriel Roth, a Research Fellow with the Independent Institute who served for 20 years as a transportation economist with the World Bank, is available for interviews about topics covered in Street Smart.