Surface and Maritime Transportation:

Developing Strategies for Enhancing Mobility: A National Challenge

GAO-02-775: Published: Aug 30, 2002. Publicly Released: Sep 30, 2002.

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The U.S. surface and maritime transportation systems include roads, mass transit systems, railroads, and ports and waterways. One of the major goals of these systems is to provide and enhance mobility, that is, the free flow of passengers and goods. Mobility provides people with access to goods, services, recreation, and jobs; provides businesses with access to materials, markets and people; and promotes the movement of personnel and material to meet national defense needs. During the past decade, total public sector spending increased for public roads and transit, remained constant for waterways, and decreased for rail. Passenger and freight travel are expected to increase over the next 10 years, according to Department of Transportation projections. Passenger vehicle travel on public roads is expected to grow by 24.7 percent from 2000 to 2010. Passenger travel on transit systems is expected to increase by 17.2 percent over the same period. Amtrak has estimated that intercity passenger rail ridership will increase by 25.9 percent from 2001 to 2010. The key factors behind increases in passenger travel, and the modes travelers choose, are expected to be population growth, the aging of the population, and rising affluence. According to GAO's expert panelists and other sources, with increasing passenger and freight travel, the surface and maritime transportation systems face a number of challenges that involve ensuring continued mobility while maintaining a balance with other social goals, such as environmental preservation. These challenges include (1) preventing congestion from overwhelming the transportation system, (2) ensuring access to transportation for certain undeserved populations, and (3) addressing the transportation system's negative effects on the environment and communities. There is no one solution for the mobility challenges facing the nation, and GAO's expert panelists indicated that numerous approaches are needed to address these challenges. Strategies included are to (1) focus on the entire surface and maritime transportation system rather than on specific modes and types of travel, (2) use a full range of tools to achieve desired mobility outcomes, and (3) provide more options for financing mobility improvements and consider additional sources of revenue.

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