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Transportation in the United States Essay

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Updated: Mar 23rd, 2022


The nineteenth century saw arise of economies of various nations across the globe. Alongside this growth was the development of strong transportation networks/systems. The settlers movement to the West of America further facilitated spread of technology and hence development of better transport facilities. The growth of cities and industrial centers demanded the revolution of the transport industry to suit the emerging needs As a result of development (Caltrans 2). As the world opens up to a new dawn, one cannot help but question whether the approach taken then, at managing transportation was the best. Milestone in development of transport networks were characterized with increased road network construction; introduction of advanced equipment like steam boats, and most fundamentally, introduction of railroads. Despite America being a leading global economy for many years, it is still confronted by commuter crises, crowded airports, crowded air lanes, screeching airplanes, archaic control equipment, abuses of safety regulations, roads that falls below its perceived global glory.

Historical background

The transportation network in America forms the pillar upon which the economy runs. Applauded, as one of the best networks in the world, the system provides services to businesses, markets, recreation centers, and jobs among many others. In essence, the transportation touches on the life of every American. It is comprised of road, rail, air, and water networks. While short distances are dominated by automobiles, long distance is mainly based on air transport (Luxner 15). The state and the local government own a vast majority of roads. Though the federal government funds some roads like the inter-state highways, the state still have an obligation to maintain the roads. However, there are a few private highways where tool charges are used to fund construction and maintenance. Most of the local roads are however concentrated in the remote parts of the country. The freight/passenger railway systems, bus services, and water ferry services are classified as either public owned or privately owned (Pucher, and Dijkstra 13). Private ownership is more pronounced across the civilian airlines. Most airports are however owned by the government though there are few privately owned.

The American transportation system has developed over the years to be what it is today. Horse transportation dominated in the late 18th century. However, it must be mentioned that utilities that used to serve the country well can no longer meet their obligations now. Though transportation is obviously only one of many daunting challenges that America faces today, it remains an exceptionally important one. Without investing adequately in transportation to refresh our models for funding and managing our system, America is in danger of losing its competitive edge. The ability to move people and goods flexibly, efficiently, and cost-effectively is as critical as ever. It is essential not only to maintaining U.S. global competitiveness, but to nurturing a dynamic and adaptable workforce, growing local and regional economies, supporting livable communities, and reducing the environmental and national security liabilities of our continued dependence on petroleum fuels for nearly all our transportation needs. The task is two-fold: to maintain and improve existing infrastructure and systems, which are increasingly overloaded and inadequately maintained, while also investing in the new systems and technologies that will be needed to meet the mobility needs of the future. The transport infrastructures have far too long been left at free hand. The central government concentrated resources in other areas at the expense of the nations transport sector. The first government expenditure on highways was aimed at speeding up overland mail. This includes the Boston Post Road connecting New York and Boston (Bookman 31). With the economic fortunes recorded in the 18th century, canals were built to meet the rising demand for faster travel e.g. the Erie Canal (Pucher, and Dijkstra 16). Upstream transit remained impracticable until the introduction of stream boats which facilitated passenger and freight movement from one point to another. However, it must be acknowledged that the overall structure has remained laissez faire with negligible regulation.

Chronic underfunding, especially on maintenance of existing infrastructure, has exposed the systems to significant degradation, thus weakening the system leading breakdown of some fundamental components. Currently the cost for fixing the resources is largely incomparable to the resource requirement aimed at diverting the anticipated system failure. An urban mobility report in 2009, illustrates the magnitude at which the free-hand in transportation system costs the economy. It was estimated that in 2007 only, total fuel waste and loss in production amounted to $87.2 billion translating to $750 for every driver in the US (DeBoer, David and Kaufman Lawrence 46). The slight congestion decline in 2008 and 2009, reflected disconnect between government intervention or road maintenance and the changing economic situations (DeBoer and Lawrence 47). One may presume that, as the country’s economy enlarges, a corresponding mechanism by the government to intervene is lacking.

It is important to note that transport affects every citizen of America. Luxner mentions that of eight jobs in America, at least one is linked to the transport sector (18). Statistics also indicate that around 11% of the country’s GDP is contributed by the transport sector. This translates to approximately $950 yearly (Bureau of statistics 11). Further it is estimated that 19% of household spending by average American families is directed on transport which exceeds food and healthcare projected spending. The system generally engages over 4.7 trillion passenger travel miles and an additional 3.7 million domestic freight ton miles. These are generated by a population of 270 million persons, approximately 6.7 million business entities and a total of 88,000 units of government. Rail and maritime transport sector accounts 11% of total transported tonnage. The major road in the country constitutes around 25,000 miles, while the waterways comprise a total of 500 miles (Bureau of statistics 15).

The sector has been cited as having the potential of unblocking America’s fortunes in the future as new challenges emerge. America is in need of a stronger transportation network in the coming future to move people and goods efficiently. The highway links the infrastructural networks across the nation. They are therefore critical in interconnecting the nations transport networks across various states and its neighbors. Additionally, 600,000 bridges have been constructed across the major highways within the nation (U.S. Government Accountability Office 39). However, states and local government retain authority over highways traversing their jurisdiction. All highways however, form part of the integrated national transport system. The transit system on the other hand is a product of various multi-occupancy vehicle services which are meant for transport of clients both in regional routes and local ones.

More than 500 public transportation systems are operated off government regulation. 4% and 1% are commuter rail cars and light rail cars respectively. It is estimated that in 2007, more than 10 billion passengers used public transportation. The development of passenger rail roads has been challenged by the emergence of low cost air travel options for long distance and the widespread presence of private automobiles used for short journeys.

Amtrak also known as the National Railroad Passenger Corporation’s entry into rail passenger services saw it drive away private firms from the intercity railway services (U.S. Government Accountability Office 39). This was an indication of the government realization of the shortfalls of its laissez fair approach. Its take-over saw rebuilding of facilities and public investment attraction with regard to tracks and stations. An example is the North East Corridor. Developing air travel pervasiveness is visible by the ever increasing passenger numbers flown by commercially operated jets. For instance growth in 1975 was 50% yet recent growths have been set at 80% (Caltrans 2). The US maritime transportation system is made up of water ways, ports, and other transportation mode connections. America is one of the largest global economies and transportation sector acts as the cornerstone to the other entire sector that defines its economy. Its position as the remaining world super power, puts lots of challenge to its transportation system, more so in consideration of the large business trading taking place (Caltrans 2). Focus is on maintenance of the best intermodal connections. A sit stands, the disintegrate approach taken in management of American states with each state individually handling its network has left the system rather disintegrated and hence allowed manifestation of problems.

Perhaps the laissez faire approach to road construction and maintenance failed to capture the importance of transportation to the economy and hence the need for a more centralized coordination of transport sector. Notably, a good percentage of the country’s GDP is originating from the transport industry. The laissez faire approach failed to capture system growth within the nation. It instead shifted focus to individual states, resulting into a disjointed system. However, all is not left to the dogs, as options till exist for the federal government intervention in the future programs wit the aim of revolutionizing the transport system to suit the future prospects and ideas of America as a nation. This would pave way for establishment of strong transport structures which would provide the much need pillar to the country’s economy.

Future of US transportation network

As daunting as are the problems within each major mode of transportation, some of the largest problems facing the U.S. transportation system lie at the connections between modes. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials have approved (Caltrans 3).

It is the right of the American population to decide how they invest in their transport sector and determine the most appropriate mix that would suite their needs. However, professionals must play a pro-active role in coming up with appropriate measures that would facilitate the sectors reasonable expansion (Bookman 17). Accountability and development of performance based program holds great potential to facilitate the sectors enlargement and improved efficiency taking into consideration the national goals. Comprehensive multimodal proposals urges that the federal program go “back to basics” and focus emphatically on national interests (DeBoer, David and Kaufman Lawrence 52). These include transports infrastructure preservation and renewal, interstate connections, safety concerns, environmental concern and congestions among other aspects. Increased federal funding alongside national performance standards should be set up pursues national goals on transportation (Bookman 18). This would compel states to adhere to standards and be accountable to the federal government on invested funds. They would be obligated to remain accountable to the federal government for the investments directed towards transport.

There is no question that there is a need for substantial funding increases. In the short-term, the economic recovery bill can make a down-payment on these needs. But in the long term, we have to look at sustaining that economic impact.

Rather than the more than 100 current programs, the following six are recommended (DeBoer, David and Kaufman Lawrence 53):

  • Preservation and Renewal
  • Freight
  • Highway Safety Improvement
  • Operations and Management
  • Transportation System Improvement/Congestion Reduction Program
  • Environment Program: Air Quality and Climate Change

As you see, it’s going to be an exciting and a critical year for transportation.

Our performance in delivering the promise of the economic recovery legislation will make the case for a robust authorization. Increase commitment to delivery of this promise is a necessity. Additionally, funding regulation need review more so with respect to the Highway Trust Fund (DeBoer, David and Kaufman Lawrence 57), the primary source of federal transportation funding, in the black. It is quite possible we may again face a shortfall late in the year unless some action is taken, and that would threaten to undo the good done by the economic recovery legislation. Finally, we must work to deliver reform legislation that relieves congestion, provides access to rural America, reduces fatalities, doubles transit ridership, streamlines program delivery—and most important, serves the American public. We are up to the challenge! Thank you and I’ll be glad to answer any questions.

The need to review the transportation systems from a wholesome point of view was first mooted in 1991. Over the years progress has been recorded. The National Highway System Intermodal Connectors has been identified for focus in solving some of the challenges threatens the transportation system. Additionally, direct dock rail services are cited as being in dire need of revamping to suit the changing demand landscape (Caltrans 3). It is evident that the quicker the response, the larger the possibility of alleviating further escalation of the already existing challenges. Clear connections need to b e designed to bring together the independently designed local/state road networks (Baltimore 29). Highway connector problems are best captured by re-examination of the existing connectors. A number of examples illustrate the some of the efforts which can be used in efficient re-evaluation of the intermodal connectors.

Firstly, collaboration between the state department and the other arms of government arms as well as stakeholders on project which could revolutionalize the freight transportation. The need for the federal government to invest more funds into transportation development cannot be overstated. Additionally, it’s high time that the federal government directly handles major road transport operations rather than leave to the hands of then

By eliminating intersections, the fly over make it possible for trains to move at high speeds and hence save a lot of time. However, initiatives in place to revamp the transport systems remain relatively few and inconsequential (Baltimore 27). The need for further efforts to eliminate freight free flow across various impediments remains largely vital and fundamental.

A survey indicated that American voters overwhelmingly agree that broader access to transport is a necessity to their well-being. A large percentage believes that they would enormously benefits form expanded transport networks more so with regard to bus and rail services. Additionally, most Americans attach importance to availing of alternative transport networks/options to choose from when moving from one place to another. Re-evaluation of federal funds allocation to transport development is therefore in dire need of review (Anonymous 1). Most specialists agree that more funds should be channeled to road network development and restructuring if America is to maintain its global competitiveness (DeBoer, David and Kaufman Lawrence 59). While liberalization is good, the government needs to critically re-evaluate its policies to ensure that liberalizations does not come at a cost to the very same persons it’s was intended to protect.


Generally, American population is in agreement in desire to for expanded transport system and options to facilitate the system maximum performance ability. American people share in their broad desire for expanded transport system and active federal participation in construction, preservation, and management of transport network if only to enhance efficiency (Anonymous 1). The government must therefore wake up to the challenge, re-evaluate the transport system, reconstruct the areas of weakness, and finally invest heavily in the sector to measure that American people remain protected and enjoy secured transport facilities.


Anonymous. “Annual Vehicle Distance Traveled in Miles and Related Data”. Federal Highway Administration. 2003. Web.

Anonymous. “The heartland fast-freight rail system.. Entrepreneur.com. Fall, 2007. Web.

Baltimore, Chris. “New U.S. Congress looks to boost transport,” The Boston Globe, 23(1), 2007, p 23-29.

Bookman, Jay “Opinion: Toll roads, taxes and why voters distrust leaders”. Atlanta, Georgia: Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 2010, p 18.

Bureau of statistics. Pocket Guide to Transportation. 2008. Web.

Bureaus of statistics. System Mileage Within the United States: National Transportation Statistics. 2007. Web.

Caltrans, Louise. The Interstate Highway System Turns 50. 2006. Web.

DeBoer, David and Kaufman Lawrence. Well Within Reach America’s: New Transportation Agenda. Miller Center of Public Affairs: Faulkner House. 2010.

Luxner, Larry. “Shipping firm sees potential gold mine in Florida-Cuba passenger ferry service.” Cuba News, 2009.

Pucher, John, and Lewis Dijkstra. Making Walking and Cycling Safer: Lessons from Europe. Transportation Quarterly, 52(1), 2000, 11-16

U.S. Government Accountability Office. Intercity Passenger Rail: National Policy and Strategies Needed to Maximize Public Benefits from Federal Expenditures. 2006. Web.

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