TRIP Reports on Colorado’s Interstate Highway System

COLORADO INTERSTATE HIGHWAY SYSTEM’S CONGESTION, TRAVEL VOLUME, ROAD AND BRIDGE DETERIORATION, AND FATALITIES AMONG HIGHEST IN U.S. ACCORDING TO NEW TRIP REPORT

The rate of congestion, travel volume, road and bridge deterioration and fatalities on Colorado’s Interstate Highway System are among the highest in the nation, according to a new report released today by TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit. The report, Restoring Colorado’s Interstate Highway System: Meeting Colorado’s Transportation Needs with a Reliable, Safe & Well-Maintained National Highway Networklooks at the use, condition and benefits of Colorado’s Interstate system.

            According to TRIP’s report, from 2000 to 2018, vehicle travel on Colorado’s Interstates has increased at a rate 17 times faster than the rate at which new lane capacity has been added. As a result, Colorado’s Interstates are the third busiest and the eleventh most congested in the U.S. The tremendous use on the system has also led to increased deterioration on Colorado’s Interstate roads and bridges, with the share of both Interstate pavement in poor and bridges in poor/structurally deficient condition in Colorado the eighth highest in the U.S. And, while the fatality rate on the state’s Interstate system is the 14th highest in the nation, travel on Colorado’s Interstate highways is nearly twice as safe as travel on all other roads in the state.

The chart below ranks states whose Interstate systems are the most congested, have experienced the greatest increase in vehicle miles of travel (VMT) since 2000, carry the greatest number of vehicles per lane mile, have the largest share of pavement in poor condition and bridges in poor/structurally deficient condition, and have the highest fatality rate. 

“Colorado is in the midst of a slowly unfolding unquiet crisis – our transportation system is now under pressure from all sides: growing usage, age, antiquated financing and expensive inputs. As a result, Colorado is experiencing increases in congestion and further roadway degradation,” said Henry Sobanet and Ben Stein, Terry J. Stevinson Fellows with Colorado-based Common Sense Institute. Sobanet and Stein recently authored a new study on Colorado transportation, A Path Forward: A Common Sense Strategy for the Continued Viability of Colorado’s Transportation Network. 

Colorado’s Interstate Highways are among the most critical links in the state’s transportation system and a vital part of Colorado’s transportation network. According to the TRIP report, while Colorado’s Interstate accounts for just two percent of all roadway lane miles in the state, it carries 27 percent of the state’s vehicle travel. But that system is become increasingly congested. In fact, travel on Colorado’s Interstate highways is increasing at a rate 17 times faster than the rate at which new lane capacity is being added. From 2000 to 2018, vehicle travel on Colorado’s Interstate highways increased 51 percent – the fifth fastest rate of growth in the nation. From 2000 to 2018, lane miles of Interstates in Colorado increased just three percent, from 4,043 to 4,165 miles. As a result, 57 percent of Colorado’s Urban Interstates are congested, the eleventh highest rate in the nation. 

“Despite a number of attempts, addressing our transportation infrastructure remains one of the most pressing problems for Coloradans,” said Tony Milo, executive director, Colorado Contractors Association. “With each passing year, solving the problem becomes increasingly expensive and more challenging. We simply can’t afford to ‘kick the can down the road’ any longer.”

TRIP’s report finds that while pavement smoothness on most segments of the U.S. Interstate system is acceptable, the crumbling foundations of most highway segments need to be reconstructed, and that continued resurfacing rather than addressing underlying foundational issues provides diminishing returns and results in shorter periods of pavement smoothness. Pavements on six percent of Colorado’s Interstate highways are in poor condition, and five percent of Interstate bridges are rated in poor/structurally deficient condition. The levels of both pavement deterioration and bridge deterioration on Colorado’s Interstate system are the eighth highest in the nation. Nine percent of Colorado’s Interstate bridges are in need of repair or replacement, and 48 percent of its Interstate brides are 50 years or older. 

            The TRIP Report does find some good news based on additional safety features. The design of the Interstate – which includes a separation from other roads and rail lines, a minimum of four lanes, paved shoulders and median barriers – makes Colorado’s Interstates nearly twice as safe to travel on as all other roadways. The fatality rate per 100 million vehicle miles of travel on Colorado’s Interstate in 2018 was 0.71 – the 14th highest in the U.S.- compared to 1.34 on the state’s non-Interstate routes. TRIP estimates that additional safety features on Colorado’s Interstate Highway System saved 99 lives in 2018.           

            Sobanet, Stein and Milo agreed, the benefits to investing in infrastructure now goes beyond Colorado’s highways. “We can build our way out of a recession,” said Milo. “Investment in infrastructure is quite literally the road to economic recovery.”          

            Sobanet and Stein’s report also note that, “While the impact of COVID-19 and the response to contain it is currently ongoing, we believe the transportation issues that long-preceded the pandemic remain important to address. This is because it remains more likely than not that transportation investments will not only serve the future economic needs of our state, but also contribute to its near-term recovery.”

“The long-term vision that helped establish the current Interstate system nearly 65 years ago is needed again today,” said Dave Kearby, TRIP’s executive director. “In order to rebuild the nation’s economy, maintain personal and commercial mobility, and improve quality of life, adequate transportation investment and a sustainable, long-term funding source for the federal surface transportation program must remain a priority.” 

Executive Summary

Colorado’s 952-mile Interstate Highway System remains the workhorse of the state’s surface transportation network: heavily traveled and providing the most important link in the supply chain, and the primary connection between and within urban communities.  The importance of the Interstate Highway System and the reliable movement of goods it provides has been heightened during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  But many Interstate highways are wearing out and showing signs of their advanced age, often heavily congested, and in need of significant reconstruction, modernization and expansion.

In 2015, as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the U.S. Congress asked the Transportation Research Board (TRB), a division of the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, to conduct a study to determine actions needed to upgrade and restore the Interstate Highway System to fulfill its role of safely and efficiently meeting the nation’s future critical personal, commercial and military travel needs. In 2019, the TRB provided Congress with a report that found that the nation’s Interstates are heavily congested and aging, with large portions of the system in need of major reconstruction and modernization. The report found that addressing the needs of the Interstate Highway System will require more than a doubling of current investment to adequately improve the system’s condition, reliability and safety, and that the restoration of the nation’s Interstate Highway System should be based on strong federal leadership of a collaborative effort with the states.

TRIP’s Restoring Colorado’s Interstate Highway System report provides the latest information on the Interstate system, including pavement conditions, bridge conditions, travel trends, traffic congestion levels, truck use, and traffic safety. It reviews the findings of the TRB Interstate report and concludes with recommended actions – based on the findings of the TRB report – to ensure that the system is able to meet the nation’s transportation needs. 

COLORADO INTERSTATE USE AND CONGESTION

Colorado’s Interstate Highway System is among the most critical links in the state’s transportation system and a vital part of Colorado’s transportation network. Traffic congestion is increasing on Colorado’s Interstate Highway System as the amount of vehicle travel far outstrips the capacity added to the system.  More than half of the length of Colorado’s urban Interstates is congested.  

  • Fifty-seven percent of Colorado’s urban Interstate highways are considered congested because they carry traffic levels that result in significant delays during peak travel hours. This is the eleventh highest share in the nation. The chart below shows the states with the greatest share of their urban Interstate highways considered congested.

Pic4

  • Colorado’s urban Interstates are the third busiest in the nation, as measured by average daily traffic per lane mile. 

COLORADO’S INTERSTATE ROAD AND BRIDGE CONDITIONS

The levels of both pavement deterioration and bridge deterioration on Colorado’s Interstate system are the eighth highest in the nation. As the aging Interstate system’s foundations continue to deteriorate, most Interstate highways, bridges and interchanges will need to be rebuilt or replaced.   

  • National Bridge Inventory data indicates that nine percent of Colorado’s Interstate bridges are in need of repair or replacement.   

INTERSTATE FATALITY RATES AND SAFETY

Colorado’s Interstate Highway System provides a network of highways with a variety of safety designs that greatly reduce the likelihood of serious crashes. While the fatality rate on Colorado’s Interstate system is the 14th highest in the nation, travel on the state’s Interstate highways is nearly twice as safe as travel on all other roadways in the state.

  • The chart below shows states with the highest traffic fatality rates in 2018 on their Interstate highways and the fatality rate on all other roads in those states.  

INTERSTATE TRAVEL AND ECONOMIC GROWTH

Colorado’s Interstate Highway System is the backbone of the state’s economy and has played a critical role in improving business productivity.  

  • annual list of the nation’s top 100 truck bottlenecks are on I-70 in Denver. They include I-70 Central Project (#15) and I-70 at I-25 (#21). 

INTERSTATE FUNDING CHALLENGES

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has determined that the nation faces a significant backlog in needed Interstate highway repairs and improvements.

The primary source of revenue for the Interstate Highway System is the federal surface transportation program, which expires on September 30, 2020. The program does not have a long-term and sustainable revenue source.

TRB INTERSTATE HIGHWAY SYSTEM REPORT REQUESTED BY CONGRESS

In 2015, as part of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the U.S. Congress requested a report evaluating the condition of the Interstate Highway System and providing recommendations on actions required to restore and upgrade the System to meet the growing and shifting transportation demands of the 21st Century. The report was conducted by the Transportation Research Board (TRB), a division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The findings of the TRB report, released in 2019, include:

  • The Interstate Highway System has a persistent and growing backlog of physical and operational deficiencies as a result of age, heavy use and deferred reinvestment, and is in need of major reconstruction and modernization.
  • Most roadway segments of the Interstate Highway System retain their original underlying foundations and need to be completely rebuilt from the subbase up.
  •  the modification of some urban segments to maintain connectivity while remediating economic and social disruption; and, further improvement of highway safety features.  
  • To address the physical and operational deficiencies identified in the TRB report, annual investment in the Interstate Highway System should be increased by approximately two-and-a-half times, from its level of $23 billion in 2018 to $57 billion annually over the next 20 years.
  • The restoration of the nation’s Interstate Highway System will require strong federal leadership and a robust federal-state partnership.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR RESTORING THE INTERSTATE HIGHWAY SYSTEM

The restoration and upgrading of the Interstate Highway System to meet 21st Century transportation needs will require strong federal leadership and a robust federal-state partnership to reestablish the Interstate Highway System as the nation’s premier transportation network.  The TRB Interstate report notes that “the scale and scope of the Interstate reinvestment imperative is daunting.” 

All data used in this report is the most current available. Sources of information for this report include:  The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Transportation Research Board (TRB), and the U.S. Census Bureau. Cover photo credit: Getty Images.

For full report visit TRIPnet.org