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A New Trend May Lead to Rethinking Road Projects

April 13. 2012

DES MOINES, Iowa – Iowa is set to spend more money on building new roads and making road repairs this year than its past record year of 2009. And it's coming at a time when Americans are changing their driving habits as a result of higher gas prices, new drivers licensing laws, and more alternative transportation. All are factors that lead to fewer miles driven, which perhaps is a long-term trend.

According to the latest National Household Travel Survey, we are driving six percent fewer miles per year than just six years ago.

Jon Ranney, director of the Office of Programming Management at the Iowa Department of Transportation, says he hasn't seen the trend yet in Iowa, but the DOT is watching for it.

"On a continual basis, the Iowa Department of Transportation does monitor traffic usage on roadways across the state, and depending on the trends we're seeing, it will impact the type of improvement made on a particular roadway."

Since World War Two, Americans have been driving more miles every year – until around the turn of this century, that is, when the trend reversed itself, particularly with younger drivers. With the state expected to spend almost $600 million on new roads and resurfacing old ones, Ranney says road use is critical to determining where new roads are built or upgraded.

"It could potentially impact long-term planning and how we would allocate resources for the entire highway system across Iowa."

The survey finds that nationally, the U.S. transportation policies may have to change to reflect how younger people get around. Those who are now ages 16-34 are driving almost 2,000 fewer miles every year, and have increased their use of public transportation by 100 percent. Cycling is up by 122 percent, and walking is up 37 percent.

Dick Layman, Public News Service - IA