Transportation Infrastructure:

Preserving the Nation's Investment in the Interstate Highway System

RCED-91-147: Published: Aug 2, 1991. Publicly Released: Sep 3, 1991.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined: (1) the condition of the Interstate Highway System; and (2) federal and state efforts to ensure its preservation.

GAO found that: (1) the Federal Highway Administration (FHwA) noted that over 40 percent of all interstate pavement was rated in fair or poor condition; (2) interstate conditions are not expected to improve beyond 1989 levels because future interstate investment needs significantly exceed funding levels, interstate capacity-enhancement needs will increasingly compete with preservation needs, and the Department of Transportation (DOT) has no goals for minimally acceptable interstate pavement conditions; (3) adequate and timely preventive maintenance could delay costly pavement reconstruction; (4) highways in four of the seven states GAO reviewed had significant maintenance backlogs that could adversely affect the structural integrity of roadways and bridges and the safety of the motoring public; (5) FHwA has not developed measurable criteria or standards for assessing the adequacy of state maintenance and weaknesses in the FHwA inspection process further weakened its oversight of state maintenance efforts; and (6) the Interstate Resurfacing, Restoration, Rehabilitation, and Reconstruction (4R) Program could affect how states prioritize highway projects by funding such capital-intensive preservation activities as resurfacing and reconstruction at a 90-percent federal matching share and by not funding preventive maintenance.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In section 6006 of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (P.L. 102-240), Congress established a Bureau of Transportation Statistics within DOT to report on, among other things, the condition of the nation's surface transportation system.

    Matter: In reauthorizing the federal-aid highway program, Congress may wish to consider directing the Secretary of Transportation to report to Congress on Interstate maintenance investment requirements and expenditures nationwide and on progress in achieving adequate interstate maintenance and preservation.

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress, in section 119(4)(e) of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (P.L. 102-240) permitted, for the first time ever, the use of federal funds for interstate preventive maintenance, providing the states can demonstrate that such activities are cost-effective and extend pavement life.

    Matter: In reauthorizing the federal-aid highway program, Congress may wish to consider expanding the eligibility parameters of the Interstate 4R Program to include preventive maintenance activities directed at preserving the life of interstate pavement.

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: While Congress did not establish goals and investment levels, it did take alternative action in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (P.L. 102-240) to target greater resources to interstate preservation, including establishing a National Highway System and Interstate Maintenance Program, providing a higher federal match for interstates, and requiring state monitoring.

    Matter: In reauthorizing the federal-aid highway program, Congress may wish to consider directing the Secretary of Transportation to: (1) establish goals for the condition of the Interstate Highway System; (2) monitor state progress in meeting those goals; and (3) require minimum investment levels in interstate preservation projects on a state-by-state basis where Interstate pavement conditions fall below DOT condition goals.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: While DOT disagreed with the recommendation and declined to take action, Congress, in section 1009(c)(2) of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (P.L. 102-240), required the Secretary to develop and make available to the states criteria for determining what constitutes adequate interstate maintenance.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to work closely with the states to develop measurable standards for maintaining the Interstate Highway System. These standards should become part of FHwA inspection and oversight processes for judging the adequacy of state maintenance on the interstate highways.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOT disagreed with the recommendation and stated in its response to the report and in its December 31, 1991, letter to the Chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, that it did not intend to adopt it. GAO continues to believe that action is needed to correct identified deficiencies.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, to revise the FHwA Maintenance Review Manual to specify the: (1) desired level of detail for conducting inspections and for reporting inspection results; and (2) procedures for following up on identified deficiencies, particularly safety-related deficiencies.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

 

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