The transportation sector in the United States is responsible for nearly a third of the country's contribution to global warming pollution. Each year Americans travel nearly 3 trillion miles in their cars, SUVs, pickups and minivans guzzling 142 billion gallons of gasoline. Average annual vehicle miles traveled (VMT) have historically increased approximately 2% per year because of a combination of driving greater distances from our homes to reach work, shopping, schools and recreation and population growth. High gas prices in 2008 reduced the miles driven by Americans and increased transit ridership to record levels. Through significant planning and investments in transportation, we can create convenient communities and transportation options that reduce the need to drive.
Transportation in the U.S. was not always symbolized by highways and automobiles. The United States was home to the first cable cars and a world-renowned national rail network. A revitalized transportation system, complete with transit, commuter rail, and safe walking and biking can once again create close-knit communities with vibrant, locally supported economies.
Sprawl was not accidental, but driven by federal policy. Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover promoted model zoning laws that included large-setback single-family housing, off-street parking and wide streets, while prohibiting markets and some sidewalks. Federally funded freeway construction bulldozed central city housing and commerce, destroying and dividing neighborhoods, bringing in hazardous traffic, noise, and pollution, and connecting central city jobs to sprawl development on farmland and natural areas, while loading infrastructure costs onto the rest of the community.
Creating a 21st Century Transportation System
Just as federal policy drove sprawl, it can drive a 21st century transportation system that reduces greenhouse gases and makes communities more livable. We can create a reformed transportation system that sets national goals and objectives, including reducing global warming pollution and saving oil, and makes strategic investments to meet those goals. Investments in public transit as well as biking and walking infrastructure can connect jobs, shopping and living and create clean and convenient alternatives to driving. Further, combining strong planning partnerships at the local, regional and federal levels with strong accountability measures will ensure that sound policies are followed.
As we are making investments for a 21st century transportation system, we must repair our existing infrastructure. According to the Federal Highway Administration, more than one quarter of the nation's bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, roughly 25% of the nation's bus and rail infrastructure is in marginal or poor condition and more than 50% of the miles driven on the federal highway system are on roads that are in less than good condition. Repairing existing infrastructure, rather than building new roads, and increasing our investments in completing our system to improve access for all Americans will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the cost of operating a vehicle and create jobs.
Infrastructure supports not just passenger services, but also commercial movement of goods, which significantly contributes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Freight truck and air transport emissions contribute to 28 percent of transportation's GHG emissions, a significant portion that needs to be reduced. Increasing rail infrastructure will help divert truck and car traffic to rail-and reduce the heavy burden of truck traffic on congested highways that impacts communities near freight centers. Electrifying rail systems will increase the energy efficiency of freight and passenger rail (including high speed), and displace the emissions to an ever-more renewable grid.