Roads Way Less Sexy Than Cars, But Are They More Important?

While the Obama administration’s new fuel efficiency standards (up to 54.5 mpg by 2025) are a step in the right direction, the allotment of state and federal funds to new roads, rail lines, bike paths, and other physical structures is equally important to the future of energy use.

A recent report by the Sierra Club looks at the 50 best – and worst - transportation projects across the US. The authors state that, “because transportation infrastructure lasts for decades, the impacts of transportation investments are felt for many years to come, with huge consequences for America’s ability to move beyond oil.”

Looking at our infrastructure through a long-term lens brings up the difficult balance between convenience, efficiency, and sustainability. As Americans have become increasingly mobile, cars – and the roads they ride on – have been the most well-funded, the most commercialized, and the most convenient option for the vast majority of travelers. But convenience also requires that travelers be able to reach their destinations quickly and affordably.

Roads in the US suffer from congestion, gas prices rise, and the efficiency of our daily travel dwindles. We sit in traffic, pay $60 to fill up the tank, then fight to pay for parking in an overcrowded garage. In the meantime oil reserves wane, and our cars continue to be significant sources of pollution. According to the EPA, motor vehicles still cause 75 percent of carbon monoxide pollution in the U.S.  Sustainability vies for our attention, but its voice is hard to hear over the roar of the highway lobby, oil companies, and bureaucracy that is still working, in some cases, on projects first proposed in the 1940s.

Maintaining a robust road system while also developing and promoting new forms of public transit poses budgetary, political, and social challenges. The furor over the most recent Transportation Funding Bill, partisan disagreement over government’s role in supporting alternative technologies, and concerns over the safety, cleanliness, and reliability of public transit all highlight that the path away from oil is far from clear-cut.  Some projects are succeeding while others fail, and it’s hard to get an overall picture of where the future of transportation stands.

The Sierra Club’s report provides that picture, and also delivers a warning about the direction of our transportation policy.

 “US transportation policy is largely getting it wrong…Transit ridership is at record highs, yet transit systems across the country are forced to cut service and raise fares due to weak public investment at the federal, state, and local levels.” An article by Sustainable Business goes on to point out that “only 54% of Americans even have access to public transportation. Meanwhile the average American household spends more on transportation than on food, education or healthcare - 16% of their annual budget.”

If you have input about the transportation infrastructure in your area, contact your representatives or get in touch with an advocacy group such as And remember that Better World Club gives a 10% discount to public transit riders! If you know of other ways we could help support changes to infrastructure funding, contact us.

Kicking Asphalt

This article is from Better World Club's monthly eNewsletter, Kicking Asphalt. To receive Kicking Asphalt in your inbox, subscribe today!

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