New data released by the Federal Highway Administration show that United States driving reached 746 billion miles in the first three months of 2016, beating the previous record of 720.1 billion miles set last year. For a sense of scale, 746 billion miles is roughly 286.9 times as far as the International Space Station has travelled since it began orbiting in 1998. In fact, Americans drive twice as far on any given day before noon as the ISS has ever flown.
The new data, published in FHWA’s latest “Traffic Volume Trends” report, a monthly estimate of U.S. road travel, show that more than 273.4 billion miles were driven in March 2016 alone, highlighting the growing demands facing the nation’s roads and reaffirming the value of the recently enacted Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, which is investing $305 billion in America’s surface transportation infrastructure, including $226 billion for roads and bridges, over the next five years.
The March 2016 report also includes seasonally-adjusted data, which is conducted by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics as a way to even out seasonal variation in travel and enable vehicle miles travelled comparisons with any other month in any year. The seasonally-adjusted vehicle miles traveled for March 2016 were 268.2 billion miles, a new monthly record for seasonally-adjusted VMT.
March VMT increased by 5 percent compared to the previous March and by 0.7 percent compared with seasonally-adjusted February 2016 figures. The estimates include passenger vehicle, bus and truck travel.
In March, U.S. drivers increased total mileage among all five regions of the United States. At 6.4 percent, traffic in the Northeast, a nine-state region stretching from Maine to Pennsylvania, led the nation with the largest percentage increase in unadjusted VMT and continued a streak of consecutive monthly increases that began in November 2014. At 4 percent, the West, a 13-state area including Alaska and Hawaii, had the smallest percentage increase in unadjusted VMT for the month.
At 8.1 percent, Maryland led the nation with the largest unadjusted single-state traffic percent increase compared to the same month a year earlier, followed by Connecticut at 7.8 percent, and Delaware and Pennsylvania with 7.6 percent each. At 3.5 percent, Wyoming had the largest unadjusted traffic single-month decrease due in part to heavy snows that caused road closures in February and March.
The new figures confirm the trends identified in “Beyond Traffic,” a USDOT report issued last year, which projects a 43 percent increase in commercial truck shipments and population growth of 70 million by 2045. The nation’s current infrastructure has ever increasing demands on it, and investments are needed in both the short and long term. Increased gridlock nationwide can be expected unless these investments are made.