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DRIVE TIME: U.S. Drivers Logged 3.2 Trillion Miles in 2016

By: 
Bill Cramer

3.2 trillion vehicle miles.

That’s the U.S. Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)’s preliminary figure for the distance Americans travelled in vehicles, in the U.S., in 2016.

It represents a 2.8% increase over 2015. And a lot of wear and tear on the country’s roads, bridges and tunnels.

It turns 18 billion vehicle miles of travel into a rounding error (the precise figure behind the 3.2 trillion is 3,218.0 billion VMT)

It echoes the 7% increase in toll road usage that IBTTA reported last year.

And it underscores the importance of two very immediate discussions: the new U.S. Administration’s trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, and the funding and financing tools that will be needed to turn the promise into a reality.

The Details Tell the Story

FHWA packaged its annual figures alongside December results that show a 0.5% increase in distance travelled—a mere 1.3 billion vehicle miles—compared to the previous year. The agency reports significant differences among regions: while volumes were up 2.9% in the western states, 1.7% in the south Atlantic, and 0.9% in the south Gulf, they declined 1.4% in the Northeast and 2.3% in the agency’s North Central region.

The 13-state region stretching from California to Montana “led the nation with the largest percentage increase in unadjusted VMT, and continued an uninterrupted series of monthly increases that began in October 2013,” FHWA states in a release. “At 33.9 billion VMT, California accounted for more miles driven in December 2016 than the combined 33.8 billion miles of 22 states” plus Washington, DC.

Louisiana at 5.8%, Utah at 5.2%, and Nevada at 5.1% recorded the highest single-state increases in unadjusted traffic volume. North Dakota had the largest decrease, at 6.2%.

Separating the Signal from the Noise

The last couple of years have seen conflicting news reports about the demand for highway mobility. We keep hearing that Baby Boomers are cutting their travel mileage as they leave the work force, while Millennials postpone the decision to buy a first car.

But it’s important to separate the signal from the noise.

FHWA consistently reports month-over-month and year-over-year increases in vehicle miles. And based on last year’s usage analysis, the nation’s tolled facilities are on track to double customer volume if the industry’s 2015 results become a continuing trend.

It’s an important step when policy analysts and decision-makers recognize highway mobility as a cornerstone of a healthy economy. It’s that much more powerful when citizens across most of the country vote with their feet, by putting their feet on the gas pedal.

And that’s the takeaway from FHWA’s latest results. The stats are big enough to warrant some bold infrastructure policy and investments needed now.

Be sure to register now and plan to attend IBTTA’s Summit on Finance, Policy and VMT, April 23-25, 2017 in Jersey City, NJ.