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Extent, connectivity, and condition of the transportation system

Extent, connectivity, and condition of the transportation system


  • The United States has about 4 million miles of roads, 140,000 F of railroad, more than 1.6 million miles of oil and gas pipelines, and 26,000 miles of navigable waterways. (Table L-1 in Chapter 2 and Table 1) If laid end to end, the nation’s waterways would circle the earth once, its railroads would circle the earth more than five times; its pipelines, 56 times, and its roads 160 times.
  • The U.S. has 5,270 public use airports, 9,133 waterway facilities, 2,909 rail transit stations, and 527 intercity railway stations. (Tables L-3, L-4, and L-5)
  • Transportation capital stock, a measure of the amount of productive assets (buildings, structures, machinery, and equipment) in use at a particular time, reached almost $4.4 trillion in 2004, $1.4 trillion more than a decade earlier. Although highways and consumer motor vehicles constitute more than $3 trillion of the total, all components have grown—with air growing fastest (more than doubling) in the decade. (Table L-7)
  • In 2004, there were about 243 million highway motor vehicles (41 million more than a decade earlier), nearly 13 million recreational boats and vessels, 1.3 million railcars and locomotives, and about 220,000 general aviation and commercial
    airplanes (2003 data) in the United States. (Table L-6)
  • Freight was hauled in more than 9 million trucks, rail cars, water vessels, and airplanes in 2004. (Table L-6)


  • The condition of interstates and other freeways or expressways generally improved between 1994 and 2004, although some road categories (rural and urban collectors and urban minor arterials) showed a higher percentage of roads in poor or mediocre condition. (Table L-8 in Chapter 2)
  • The number of deficient bridges declined 16 percent between 1995 and 2005, while the total number of bridges increased 2 percent. (Table L-9)
  • Seventy-five percent of airports identified in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems as significant to national air transportation were in “good” condition in 2005; only 4 percent were in poor condition. (Table L-10)

Vehicle weights and other vehicle characteristics

  • The median age of passenger cars in 2005 was 9 years. (Table E-4 in Chapter 2)
  • The average age of full-size transit buses in 2004 was 7.2 years. (Table E-5)
  • The average age of all commercial aircraft in 2003 was 11 years. (Table E-8)
  • Light trucks (a category that includes vans, pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles) under 10,001 pounds increased 45 percent between 1992 and 2002, the last year for which detailed data are available, while medium trucks (between 10,001
    and 19,000 pounds) increased 52 percent. Heavy trucks (greater than 26,000 pounds) increased 27 percent. (Table E-1)
  • Between 1998 and 2005, the average freight loading capacity of oceangoing vessels calling at U.S. ports increased by nearly 4,800 deadweight tons. (Table E-2)
  • Average loaded railcar weights have declined from the high point of 66.6 tons in 1996 to 61.0 tons in 2005. (Table E-3)

Traffic flows for all modes of transportation

  • U.S. vehicle-miles of travel (vmt) for all modes of transportation approached 3 trillion in 2004, compared to 2.4 trillion in 1994. Vehicle-miles grew for all modes, but the most rapid vmt growth was for air carriers, which increased by 50 percent. (Table B-1 in Chapter 2)
  • Passenger-miles of travel (pmt) in the United States exceeded 5.0 trillion in 2004, or about 17,500 miles for every man, woman, and child. (Table B-2)
  • Almost 86 percent of pmt in 2003 was in personal vehicles (passenger cars and light trucks, which include sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, and minivans). Air carriers accounted for another 10 percent of pmt. (Table B-2)
  • Vehicle-miles of transit grew by 26 percent between 1994 and 2003, to 4 billion miles, while passenger-miles of transit grew 21 percent to 48 billion. (Tables B-1 and B-2)
  • In 2004, travelers from other countries made 185 million visits to the United States, while travelers from the United States made 153 million visits to foreign countries. (Table B-12)
  • In 2005, 249 million people (both U.S. residents and residents of other countries) crossed into the United States from Canada and Mexico in personal vehicles, compared to 266 million in 1995 and 331 million in 1999, the high point. The number of pedestrians crossing into the country in 2005 was 46.4 million, compared to 33.5 million in 1995, and 52.2 million in 2001. (Tables B-8 and B-11)
  • Freight ton-miles within the United States amounted to 4.6 trillion in 2004, compared to 3.9 trillion in 1994. (Table B-3)
  • In 2005, 11.5 million trucks crossed into the United States from Mexico and Canada, and 1.8 million full rail containers crossed into the United States. (Tables B-5 and B-7)

(BOX 1)

Travel times and measures of congestion

  • Highway travel times increased between 1993 and 2003 in all but 3 of the 85 urban areas (98 percent) studied by the Texas Transportation Institute. (Table D-1 in Chapter 2)
  • It took 37 percent longer, on average, in 2003 to make a peak period trip (from 6 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m.) in these urban areas compared with the time it would take if traffic were flowing freely. (Table D-1)
  • About 75 percent of domestic air flights arrived on time in 2006 and 1996. (Table D-2)
  • The scheduled travel time for all flights rose by 20 percent between 1990 and 2004. During the same period, the actual travel time rose by only 19 percent. (Table D-3)
  • Seventy percent of Amtrak trains arrived at their final destination on time in 2005. Short-distance trains—those with runs of less than 400 miles—consistently registered better on-time performance than long-distance trains. (Table D-6)
  • Average line-haul speed of Class I freight railroads has been generally decreasing since a peak in early 2002. Between the second quarter 2002 and the fourth quarter 2005, line-haul speed decreased 19 percent. (Table D-4)
  • The average wait time in 2004 for passenger vehicles crossing the border between the United States and Canada was 6 minutes, and for passenger vehicles crossing between the United States and Mexico the average wait time was 15 minutes. The average wait time in 2004 for commercial vehicles entering the United States from Canada was 8 minutes, and the average wait time for those entering from Mexico was 7 minutes. (Tables D-7 and D-8)

Availability and use of mass transit and other forms of for-hire passenger transportation

  • U.S. domestic commercial airlines carried 701 million passengers in 2005. (Table H-1 in Chapter 2)
  • Total domestic enplanements in the United States increased 33 percent between 1995 and 2005. Enplanements at large hubs increased only 23 percent, while enplanements at small hubs increased 58 percent. (Table H-1)
  • Amtrak carried 25.1 million riders in fiscal year 2005. Ridership increased about 23 percent between 1995 and 2005. (Table H-2)
  • Approximately 65 percent of all unlinked transit passenger trips (6.2 billion trips in 2004) were within the service area of only 20 transit authorities. New York City alone accounted for 28 percent of all transit trips in 2004. (Table H-3)
  • There were 49 billion transit passenger-miles traveled (pmt) in 2004 compared with 39.6 billion pmt in 1994, an increase of 24 percent. As they have historically, transit buses had the largest pmt share in 2004, generating 21 billion pmt or 44 percent of all transit pmt. (Table H-4)
  • Measured in unlinked trips, transit ridership has grown 16 percent since 1994 to 8.9 billion unlinked trips in 2004. Bus ridership comprised the majority of unlinked trips (5.1 billion) in 2004. However, rail transit ridership – including heavy rail, light rail, and commuter rail – with 3.5 billion trips in 2004, posted stronger growth (26 percent) between 1994 and 2004. (Table H-5)
  • As of 2004, 58 percent of transit rail stations had complied with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility requirements. This represented a 32-percent increase from 1994. Ninety-eight percent of transit buses, also subject to ADA requirements, were equipped with lifts or ramps by 2004. (Tables H-6 and H-7)

(BOX 2)

Updated: Saturday, May 20, 2017