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Public Roads - May/June 2017

May/June 2017
Issue No:
Vol. 80 No. 6
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Guest Editorial

After the Celebration

ediThroughout last year, we joined with our colleagues to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, which opened its doors on April 1, 1967. On that same date, the Nation’s road agency—born on October 3, 1893, and known by many previous names—officially became the Federal Highway Administration.

Over FHWA’s first half-century, the agency has had many notable accomplishments, such as the completion of the interstate system, leadership in shaping the post-interstate era embodied in the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, and the thousands of jobs created and sustained by Federal-aid highway projects. FHWA also has led the way in innovation and research, while enhancing partnerships with State departments of transportation, industry, academia, local public agencies, and metropolitan planning organizations.

The vital importance of roads is one key to the agency’s longevity. As transportation professionals go through their daily routines—meetings, memos, phone calls, emails, deadlines—it is easy to lose sight of that simple proposition. U.S. highways, roads, bridges, and tunnels are the backbone of the Nation’s economy, part of daily life, essential to the national defense network, and an enduring contributor to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Such a central role may seem like an exaggeration, but, amidst competition from rail, air, water, and the Internet, vehicles on U.S. roads still topped 3.2 trillion miles (5.1 trillion kilometers) in 2016, the highest total ever. Moreover, demographics tell us that the number of drivers and vehicles will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. People will rely more heavily than ever on the country’s roads and bridges. As a result, FHWA is committed to ensuring that the system can handle the challenges ahead.

Much has changed since April 1, 1967. At that time, the National Environmental Policy Act did not exist, computers were not on every desk or in most hands, and the World Wide Web was still two decades away. A highway engineer likely had a slide rule on his belt (“his” being the appropriate pronoun because most engineers were males back then).

As progress since then has proven, FHWA does not rest on its laurels, always confronts challenges head on, and pursues innovations at every opportunity. Over the decades, the agency has applied changes in technology, the economy, and the political world to find solutions.

Today, FHWA continues to face challenges in making roads safer and more efficient. The search for better, more innovative ways to maintain and enhance infrastructure continues. FHWA is working to adapt the road network to the wave of new technology just ahead, such as alternative fuel vehicles, vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, and driverless cars. For an indepth look at just how close connected vehicles are to being road ready, see “Connected Vehicles: Coming Soon to a Road Near You” on page 4 in this issue of Public Roads.

Still, many challenges likely lie ahead, for the supply of challenges always exceeds the solutions. That said, if the past 50 years are any indication, FHWA will work successfully with its partners to keep America moving.

Walter C. “Butch” Waidelich, Jr.
Acting Deputy Administrator
Federal Highway Administration