Preserving the Interstate System

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1990-04-24.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                   United States General Accounting   Office

on Delivery
Expected    at
1O:OO a.m. EDT
April   24, 1990

                   Statement    of
                   John W. Hill,      Jr.
                   Associate    Director,      Transportation    Issues
                   Resources,     Community,      and Economic
                      Development     Division
                   Before    the Subcommittee     on Surface
                   Committee      on Public  Works and
                   United    States   House of Representatives

                                                                  GAO Form 160 (X3/87)
Mr.   Chairman        and Members of the                  Subcommittee:

       I appreciate           the      opportunity             to be here            today       to testify           on
our on-going          work on federal              and state             efforts         to preserve            the
Interstate        Highway          System.        Although           the     Interstate            system
represents        only      1 percent          of all         roads,        Interstate           routes     carry          21
percent      of the       nations's          vehicle          traffic.          Because          the   system         has
assumed a dominant                 and vital       role         in the       nation's        transportation
network,       preservation            of the      over        $100 billion              federal       investment
in Interstate            construction           must be ensured.

       As requested           by the         committee,             we reviewed           the      Interstate
Resurfacing,          Restoration,             Rehabilitation,                and Reconstruction                   (4R)
program      and the       adequacy          of Interstate               maintenance             efforts        to slow
pavement       deterioration.                In summary,             we found         the    following:

       --    In 1988,        the      Department          of Transportation                     (DOT) classified
             57 percent         of the         nation's          Interstate           pavement         in good
             condition.             The remaining              43 percent            is classified              as fair
             or poor       which       means that             the    ride     on a significant
             percentage         of the         nation's          premier       highway          system      may be
             barely       tolerable        or worse.

       --    Progress        in adequately             maintaining             the       Interstate         system,         a
             state-financed             responsibility,                  has been mixed,               in part
             because       some states           have not           adequately            funded       Interstate

               maintenance.                     In two of three                   s tates       we v is ited,           needed
               maintenance               was not             performed,              s ince     the       resources          devoted
               to maintenance                    were insufficient.                           Although           Federal       Highway
               Adminis tration                   (FHW A) engineers                     identified               maintenance
               problems,            they         did     not      alway s         follow        up to ensure                that           the
               s tate       corrected             maintenance                defic ienc ies ,               even when some
               were safety-related.

               In 1981,            the     scope of the                  Inters tate            4R program             was
               s ignificantly                   broadened          to allow             funding           for
               reconstruction,                    inc luding             lane        widening.             Although          major
               lane      widening               was not         initially             expected            to be a major
               component            of the          4R program,                 s tates        have increasingly                      used
               4R funds            to widen            the      Inters tate             in response                to worsening
               congestion.                 If     this        trend         continues,             the      4R program              will
               change        from primarily                     a pavement              preservation                program          to
               one that            inc ludes           a large           widening             element.             D O T estimates
               $4.7      billion          to      $6.1        billion         will        be needed              annually           in
               federal        and s tate               funds ,          of which          about       50 percent             will           be
               used for            Inters tate            widening.                The other              half      would     go
               primarily            to preserve                exis ting             Inters tate           pavement.

       G iven         the    overall             condition              of the        Inters tate            and increased
funding        needs,       we are presenting                           some options               that      the     Congress              may
wish   to consider                 for   re-aligning                    federal         responsibilities                    and

funding         the      program         to better         ensure         that          the     nation's          investment
in the         Interstate             System is adequately                     protected.


           Responding           to a need to preserve                      the          Interstate             system,      the
Federal-Aid              Highway        Act   of 1976 established                         the     Interstate
Resurfacing,              Restoration,             and Rehabilitation                         (3R) program.               This
program         provided         federal          funds     to states              for        capital          improvements
that       would      generally           extend     the     life         of the          pavement.              The Federal-
Aid Highway             Act     of 1981 added a fourth                         llRl',     reconstruction,                 as an
eligible         type       of work.          Reconstruction                   includes,             but       is not     limited
to,      the    addition         of travel          lanes        (widening),                  and the          construction
and reconstruction                     of interchanges                 and overcrossings                       along     existing
Interstate            routes.           In addition,             other         types          of projects              became
eligible         in 1981,             including      repairing             or replacing                 bridges          and
constructing             bicycle,          pedestrian,            and equestrian                     trails,           as well         as
fringe         parking        lots,       sound barriers,                 and landscape                 plantings.               All
of these         activities             are eligible             for      90 percent              federal         cost
sharing.           However,            some projects             have numerous                  beneficiaries,                 while
others         have a limited              number of beneficiaries.


          FHWA classifies                pavement         into         three      broad         categories--good,
fair,      and poor--          according          to roughness.

          --    Good pavement            provides            a smooth ride;         with      little          or no
                signs     of deterioration.

          --    Fair    pavement         may provide              a barely     tolerable         ride         at high
                speeds        and has a number of surface                      defects.

          --    Poor pavement            produces        an uncomfortable              ride      which         requires
                reduced       driving         speeds     and has excessive                 bumps,
                depressions,            or holes,        and needs resurfacing                   and/or

         The amount of good pavement                             has decreased       (see attachment                  I)
from      62 percent          in 1981 to 57 percent                    in 1988,     while        the         amount of
fair     pavement         has increased               from       25 to 31 percent.             Poor pavement
has remained            at about         12 percent              between     1981 and 1988.                  The bottom
line      is that       the    ride      on 43 percent              of the     nation's       premier           highway
system         may be barely            tolerable        or worse.           Moreover,        the       outlook            for
improvement            beyond     this        level     is not        encouraging         because            DOT's
estimate         of future        needs are based on recent                       pavement         conditions.
For example,            the    Department's             estimate        of future         4R needs through
2005 is based on maintaining                           1985 conditions.             In 1985,            about        41
percent         of the pavement               was rated           in fair    or poor       condition.                DOT
has not         established           goals     to improve           conditions       beyond           the     1985

          Although       the     percentage           of poor            pavement         has stabilized
nationally,          the       percentage          of poor          pavement         varies        among individual
states.        In 1988,          the percentage                  of poor        pavement          ranged       from      less
than      2 percent        in 13 states             to over          25 percent            in ten        states.          This
difference        can be caused              by a variety                 of    factors        including           the
adequacy       of routine           maintenance,                 age of the          pavement,           the    amount of
traffic       and load          carried,       and environmental                     effects        (temperature
and rainfall).                 According       to the American                   Association             of State
Highway       and Transportation                   Officials             (AASHTO), the             separate         or
interacting          effects        of these          components               are not        clearly       defined        at

          Deteriorated           pavement          results          in societal            costs        such as
traffic       delays,          increased       fuel      costs,           decreased         productivity,                and
the potential            for     increased          accidents,             injuries,           and vehicle
damage.        For example,            a 1988 report1                    estimated         that     in Michigan,
driving       on substandard               roads      was costing               drivers        about       $480 million
or about       11 percent           of their          total        driving        costs.


          Maintenance           of the      Interstate             System is a state-financed
responsibility.                 Some routine           maintenance               activities             can slow
deterioration.                 However,      routine             state     maintenance             can include           many

'An Analysis   Of Current And Future Deterioration                                             on Michiaanls
State,  Countv And Citv Roads, The Road Information                                              Program, Aug.
different         activities,               such as repairing                     crash      barriers,           fixing
potholes,         resealing           pavement           cracks,          removing           snow and ice,                  and
painting        bridges.

        Maintenance               activities           that       preserve              pavement      life,       such as
resealing         joints,          are cost-effective.                          However,          these       types        of
maintenance             activities           are not          eligible            for     4R funds.            Yet if            they
were applied             in a timely            manner they               could          reduce     or postpone                  the
need for        4R funds.             For example,                a 1985 DOT-Office                   of the          Inspector
General        report          concluded        that      had routine                   maintenance           been
performed         when needed in three                        states,           planned       4R project              costs           of
$88.3       million       may have been reduced                         or deferred.

        FHWA developed                its      Interstate           Maintenance               Guidelines              in        1977
because        of congressional                 concerns           that         portions          of the       Interstate
System were prematurely                        aging     due to           inadequate              and untimely
maintenance.              In 1987,           FHWA revised               its      maintenance           guidance             to
respond        to concerns            over      unresolved              maintenance            deficiencies,
insufficient             follow-up           inspections            by FHWA field                  engineers,              and
FHWA's not            requiring        the      states         to take           corrective          action.

        We judgmentally                selected          three          states--California,                     Louisiana,
and Michigan--            to review            the     adequacy           of state          maintenance              efforts.
Two of the            three      states        we reviewed           were experiencing                     problems              in
adequately            funding        needed maintenance                       activities.            FHWA frequently
identified            safety      hazards        as a common maintenance                            problem.               At

least       twenty-five         percent      of all           deficiencies,              including          safety
hazards,        had not been resolved                   as called            for      by FHWA procedures.

Needed Maintenance                Not Performed

         Both    Louisiana            and Michigan            did    not    perform         all      needed
maintenance           work,     and thereby          affected          the         structural          integrity           of
the     roadway.         In Louisiana,          state         transportation              officials          told         us
that     all    needed maintenance                had not           been performed                because         of lack
of funds.          FHWA was aware of the problem                            as its        Fiscal        Year 1986
inspection         reports        revealed        serious           maintenance           deficiencies.
Their       summary of Interstate                 maintenance              inspections             showed 39
different        types        of maintenance            deficiencies                including         pavement
blow-outs2,          poor      skid-resistant             surfaces,           unsealed            joints,         ruts,
and damaged guardrails,                   which     potentially               affect       the       structural
integrity        of the        road     and user        safety.            In addition,              FHWA's
analysis        of state        budget     information               showed that            funding         for
maintenance         supplies           had declined            by 34 percent              over       the past         3
years       and the       number of maintenance                     employees          had been reduced                   by
23 percent         in the       past     18 months.

        In 1987,          FHWA concluded           that        Louisiana           had not         adequately
maintained         its     Interstate        highways.               Consequently,                FHWA suspended

   Pavement blowouts  are                 defined      as the crushing    and upward movement
of concrete  pavement at                  the' joint     area that causes the adjoining
slabs to raise up, or in                    many cases shatter,       becoming a safety
hazard needing immediate                    attention.
approvals            of certain            agreements              and authorizations,                    such as the
approval           of a consultant                  agreement            for     preliminary             engineering
and/or       right-of-way                 authorizations.                      Responding         to the        threatened
cutoff       of      future        federal          funds        in 1987,         the     state        channeled          about
$10 million              to Interstate               maintenance                and over        $11 million           to
provide        needed maintenance                      on other           Federal-aid             highways.           The
state       also      began efforts                 to earmark            revenues         from the         state         gas
tax      towards         highway       maintenance.                     These state            actions      resulted            in
FHWA lifting              the      federal          funding           restriction.              But,      the    earmarked
revenue        envisioned            in 1987 did                 not materialize,                 and Louisiana
proposed           substantial             reductions              in its        maintenance           work.         FHWA
again       responded           by denying             approval           of certain            authorizations.                   In
June 1989,            the passage             of a gas tax                amendment offered                 hope that            the
state       would        be better           able      to meet its               maintenance           needs.         As a
result,        the       federal       funding             restriction            has been lifted.

           In Michigan,             the      state         did    not     perform        all      needed routine
maintenance              in the      following              areas:        sealing        pavement          cracks         and
joints,       painting            bridges,           and replacing                or repairing             damaged
guardrails            and right-of-way                     fences.          A Michigan            transportation
official          told     us that          not      all     needed maintenance                    work had been
performed,           much of which                was related               to the       structural             integrity
of the       roadway.             FHWA was also                  aware of this             needed work through
inspections,              but     concluded           that        the     overall        maintenance             effort         was
acceptable.               State      and FHWA officials                        also     told      us steps        had been
taken       to partially             correct          the        deficiencies.                 For instance,              at

FHWA's request,                Michigan        has begun to do more bridge                               painting             to
prevent        premature          deterioration.                 However,           a state         official            stated
that      maintenance            funding       is not         expected         to be sufficient                    to
eliminate          the maintenance                 backlog.             In addition,              this      official
told      us that       an increase            in the         state      gas tax        of about            2 cents            per
gallon       for     three      years,       for      a total         of 6 cents,             would       be needed to
reduce       the maintenance               backlog.             He did      not      expect         an increase                to
be considered            during       this         legislative           session.

         .Deferral       of needed maintenance                        work was not              evident          in
California.            A California                state     transportation                  official           said     that
they     were able           to keep up with               maintenance              needs,        and FHWA
concurred.            However,        he cautioned               that      because        of rising
maintenance           costs,       the     state       may be hard-pressed                      to meet future
maintenance           needs.        California             is also         trying       to      increase          its        gas

Inadeouate           follow-up

         FHWA documentation                  indicated           no evidence            of      follow-up             action
for    at least        25 percent            of the        deficiencies              identified            in
Interstate           maintenance           inspection            reports       by staff            engineers             in
Michigan       and California                during        fiscal       year      1989.          Some of the
deficiencies           were safety            related         such as missing                  signs      and signals,
damaged guardrails,                 and illegal             median       crossings.                In discussing
the    issue       of follow-up,             FHWA field             managers        indicated            that         they

were unaware                   of the           insufficient              follow-up.              They stated                that
management               review          procedures             would        be implemented                   to assure              that
follow-up            would            be improved              so that        all      deficiencies                  are     resolved
in a timely               manner.                 For example,               FRWA California                    division
officials            plan            to utilize             a computerized                summary to identify
unresolved               deficiencies                  and determine                the    adequacy             of    follow-up
action        at monthly                 management meetings.


         According                   to DOT's biennial                    report      to the            Congress,            funding
requirements                   for     the       4R program           significantly                exceed            the    current
funding           level         of $2.8           billion        a year.             The Department                   estimates             the
program           will     need federal                  and state            funds        totaling            $4.7        billion          to
$6.1     billion           annually               through        the year            2005.         If     the        federal          cost-
share       remains             at 90 percent,                 the        required         federal            investment             will
be between               $4.2         billion          and $5.5        billion            annually.

         Widening               the      existing           Interstate              system        must be addressed
along       with         the         important          need to arrest                pavement            deterioration                 of
the     existing           system.                Reviewing          the      Department            of Transportation's
estimate           of 4R funding                   needs,       we observed                that     the        funding         estimate
projects           that         states          will     need to spend about                       50 percent               of the          4R
funds       for      major            widening         and the         rest        primarily            for      improving
existing           pavement.

         As congestion               on the      Interstate             worsens,            expansion              needs on
the     Interstate            are expected          to grow tremendously                           in the         next
several       years.           The 4R program             may increasingly                       be used to respond
to these       needs.           Therefore,          the potential                   increase             in widening
activities           could      change what has been basically                                   a pavement
preservation            program        into      a program            that        will      also         include         a
significant            lane     widening         element.             Specifically,                 if     about         50
percent       of 4R funds            are spent           for     major        Interstate                 widening,            this
spending       would         represent          a significant                departure             from historical
spending       trends.           In 1981,         less         than     1 percent             of 4R funds                was
spent       on major         widening.           In fiscal            year        1989,       13 percent             was spent
on this       activity.

        The Department's                 estimate         of future               annual         funding          needs far
outstrips        the      current        4R funding             level        of    $2.8     billion           per year.
Furthermore,           the     Department           estimates            that        lane        widening          of        11,000
to 15,000        additional           Interstate           miles          is needed,              but      is not
included       in the         $4.7    billion         to $6.1           billion           estimate          because            of
right-of-way           constraints.               The Department                   makes reference                   to other
transportation             strategies,            such as transit,                       compensating              for       the
expected       lane       widening        shortfall            of 11,000             to 15,000             lane     miles.
However,       no information                 is provided             on the         extent        to which              such
alternative          strategies           could       respond           to this           lane     widening
shortfall        and at what costs.


        Mr.     Chairman,             almost      half      of the         Nation's       premier          road     highway
system        may be in barely                 tolerable          or worse         condition.              Further,     due
to funding            difficulties,              some states            have not         performed          needed
maintenance            to slow pavement                  deterioration             and reduce             4R costs.         In
light        of the      Department's             estimate          of the        need for        a significant
increase        over       current          4R funding           levels,         which    will      only     hold     the
line    at     1985 pavement                conditions,           program         modifications             need to be
considered            to more effectively                  use the          4R dollar.

        As your          subcommittee             deliberates              the    reauthorization              of
highway        programs,         you may wish              to consider:

        --     establishing             national          goals      for     the maximum acceptable
               levels       of poor          and fair        pavement;

        --     redefining             the    range       of activities             eligible         for     4R funding
               to encourage             states         to give       more attention               to maintenance
               activities             directed         at preserving              the    Interstate          pavement
               or resolving             safety-related               deficiencies:

        --     emphasizing             Interstate          priorities             through        maintaining
               the     90 percent            federal       cost      share        on those        projects
               that      have numerous              beneficiaries,                and decreasing             the

               cost   share      on those      projects          that    have a limited
               number of beneficiaries:                    and

         --    requiring        an assessment         of the        extent     to which     alternative
               transportation           strategies          are expected        to alleviate       the
               expected     shortfall        in Interstate              lane   widening     and
               associated        costs.

     Mr.        Chairman,        this     concludes        my testimony.           I will      be happy to
answer        any questions.