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Main Issues of American Transport Infrastructure

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Transport system forms the backbone of a country’s productive, competitive economy. Well planned transport structure enables smooth carry of goods, commodities, promotes trade and reduce operational costs. The U.S transport system in very complex as it is owned by federal, state, local governments along with private entities. Particularly, rising demand for better road transport has forced the government to rethink about the share being invested. International trade requires ports to be in the best condition and freight transport along the country requires railways that are efficient.

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The U.S states population has doubled since 1960 while the share of total spending by local and state bodies has dropped from 70 to 40% on highways (local and state bodies are the major sources of funding for these projects) and remained almost constant on water and railways. With an average of 865 vehicles/1000 individuals and average daily commute time of 48 mins per day, the state of transport infrastructure must be rated as poor.

History of Ports, Rail Roads and Highways:

Ports: Sea routes are the primary mode of transportation in the country till the late 18th centuries. These ports enabled trade of goods and commodities and the cities with ports have flourished and became major trade centres. Riverways and canals became prominent as the need of inter-state transportation has grown. Ownership of these ports varies, there are few ports controlled by Federal government, few have their own autonomous bodies, few are owned by the state and local governments while the others are owned by foreign/Private firms.

The countries busiest ports namely, Los Angeles Port and Port of Houston are run by independent bodies that are elected by the local governing bodies. LA Ports’ construction began in 1899 with the federal government support. The LA Board of Harbour Commissioners was established in 1907. Similarly, The people of Harris County approved creation of modern Houston port in 1909. This belief on an inland port is the effect of Galveston Hurricane of 1900. President Woodrow Wilson officially opened the port to traffic as the World Port of Houston and Buffalo Bayou on November 10, 1914.

Railways: The invention of railways made the inter-state transportation of cargo easy and the need to rely on water transportation had gone down. The railways started as a cargo carrier and later began carrying passengers.

Almost all the rail tracks are owned and maintained by the private firms. The First Transcontinental route took 6 years to complete, the Central Pacific was owned by ‘The Big Four’, prominent businessmen of California and Union Pacific is controlled by Dr. Thomas C. Durant who has strong ties with President Abraham Lincoln. The government provided various grants and subsidies for the completion of this project and the companies were paid $16,000/mile (approximately $436,000 today) for track laid on a level grade, $32,000/mile (about $872,000 today) for track laid in foothills, and $48,000/mile (or about $1,307,000 today) for track laid in mountains.

In the mid-19th century the buzz of Industrialization and world wars have multiplied the usage of railways for both carrying passengers and soldiers and cargo. Today though the percent of public relying on railways as a mode of transport has dropped significantly down but today, they still carry 43% of country’s cargo.

Highways: In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Federal Aid Highway Act which committed the government to heavily invest in highways for interstate transport. This was also an after effect of world war II as the president is keen on improving the road transport as they served the mode of carrying heavy weapons like nukes and missiles along with soldiers.

The longest I-90 was constructed and opened in stages taking a span of 4 years while Route 66 called the Mother Road took 2 years to complete (various routes were bought together along with few new additions). Route 66 was deserted or had become state road after repeated construction of bypasses to support the growing population demands.


. The public-private partnerships have started emerging and the share of private spending on infrastructure has gone up over the past decades. Recently, for $3.8 Billion, Indiana agreed to lease its Skyway toll for 75 years. The public can either demand to increase the share of government on spending or bear the toll charges and provide revenue to a private firm.


The current infrastructure ranks 16th worldwide and a survey found that 1 in 4 bridges is structurally deficeint and 42% of urban roads are congested. A McKinsey study shows that we lose $150 Billion worth petrol while waiting in traffic. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) drafted a report in 2017 stating that nations’ infrastructure averages “D” standards i.e., mostly below standard. They also estimate a funding gap of 1.5 Trillion $ with the current trends. For autonomous vehicles to rule the roads this gap must be filled and share of GDP on infrastructure spending must be increased. A McKinsey study has shown that every 1$ spent on infrastructure would give back 3$. The government should realize this fact and spend the nation’s wealth wisely.


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