Transportation Infrastructure:

Reshaping the Federal Role Poses Significant Challenge for Policy Makers

RCED-90-81A: Published: Dec 28, 1989. Publicly Released: Dec 28, 1989.

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GAO convened a panel of transportation experts to discuss the future of surface transportation programs, focusing on: (1) a general overview of critical transportation issues; (2) federal-aid highway system preservation and research needs; (3) recasting the federal government's role; and (4) innovative highway financing through the use of tolls.

GAO found that: (1) traffic congestion and road and bridge deterioration were the highest surface transportation priorities facing the nation; (2) traffic congestion stemmed from increasing numbers of vehicles and drivers, a shift in employment from urban to suburban areas, and the inability of current public transit and road systems to meet commuting needs; (3) funding uncertainties hampered federal efforts to reduce congestion; (4) although pavement and bridge deficiencies affected most of the nation's highways and bridges, there was considerable variance in conditions; (5) many roads suffered substantial damage because they were not designed to withstand current traffic volume and weight, and the use of chemicals and severe weather conditions deteriorated roads faster in some areas; (6) the panel advocated a national strategy incorporating strong incentives to ensure adequate road and bridge maintenance, and a two-tiered realignment of federal and state roles under which the first tier would provide federal funding for highways of national importance, and the second tier would provide funding for other federal-aid highway and bridge programs through block grants; (7) because existing revenue sources were not expected to meet projected transportation needs, the panel considered tolls as an important alternative funding strategy; (8) although most funding mechanisms and organizational structures are geared to individual transportation modes, state and federal planners need to implement intermodal transportation strategies, since no one mode can meet the nation's diverse transportation requirements; and (9) transportation planners must increasingly account for the environmental impacts of transportation policies.

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