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After 60 Years, I-95 Is Complete (bloomberg.com)
131 points by dsgerard 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 139 comments

> Near the Pennsylvania border, drivers have long been forced off the interstate and onto other roadways, only to join back 8 miles away.

This is a misleading overstatement. This is only true if you want to drive the roads labeled as I-95. There are indeed two segments labeled as I-95 that are discontinuous: the NJ Turnpike south until exit 6, and from Trenton southwards through PA to Delaware. But those segments are linked by the remainder of the NJ Turnpike, which forms a continuous highway route from northern NJ through to Delaware, and the signage indicates that all through traffic should do that.

Ascii art diagram:

  B   C
  B  C
  B C
A and B are the discontinuous sections of I-95 (A is the NJ Turnpike; Trenton is at the north end of the B section); C is the remainder of the turnpike; X is the "new" section. X already existed, it's just being redesignated as I-95. The only thing actually missing was the interchange between X and B. But none of that really matters because C is the more direct route anyway.

There's a slight inaccuracy in that diagram. While NJT does (via a short stint on I-295) intersect I-95 in Delaware on the southern end, the northern end has a rather more roundabout connection. I-95 continues up as a beltway around Trenton. But the beltway continues as I-295, which turns south and parallels the NJ Turnpike. If you're trying to go north on I-95, you end up heading south instead for ~7mi and then needing a ~7mi stint on I-195 to continue north.

This is correct; I knew it but didn't try to illustrate it for simplicity.

i.e., highways in Jersey are a quagmire of poor planning.

Actually, that applies to pretty much all roads—not just highways.

At least a lot of our roads, including city roads, got to be planned at all - still better than the mazes of very narrow, disorganized roads established hundreds of years ago you get in very old locations in Europe, particularly old cities. At least this is the impression I've gotten reading some accounts on the subject online - can't vouch for it 100%.

Just imagine what our planning will look like in one or two hundred years (or even 30-40 years). I would bet those more walk-able and bike-able cities will look a lot more attractive...

I don't see self-driving cars/pods making better roads not be a benefit unless they're airborne.

Current planning assumes a lot of parking is required. Streets allow parking on the sides, access routes are optimized for cars, every business wants to be as close as possible to street, etc.

I also think the shifts coming in transportation will be a lot more than an "automated uber". There will likely be a lot of automated carpooling and carpool discovery along the line of ad-hoc ride-sharing discovery. Bottom-line, I assume there will be a lot less parked hunks of metal in city centers, which will itself alter what an efficient layout entails.

The entire US is designed around personal automobile ownership to an incredible degree. Anything that affects that one way or another drastically changes optimal design layout for both residential and commercial planning.

As a simple example of this, if you've ever driven down a corridor of highway or an arterial route that is one strip mall after another behind parking lots, imagine how that changes is a large chunk of people are no longer driving their own cars leisurely, but instead hiring transport to a specific point. Road visibility is much less important. Parking lots in front are mostly superfluous. Basically, walk-able downtown areas and enclosed malls may see (and I think already are seeing) a resurgence.

I still can't follow the pictures on the linked article that somehow have 295 going both east/west and north/south.

I think the confusing part is merely why they word it that way; everwhere else does just fine with understanding that sometimes driving north on a freeway has you going east or west for a time.

Stuff like this is why I have exactly zero faith in the US ever building the type of high speed rail systems that other countries have and we clearly need. These projects are simply to expensive for private entities to undertake alone and federal and local governments can't stay aligned long enough to see anything that last longer than an election period through to it's finish.

Unless someone invents teleportation, what we have currently for transportation infrastructure is probably as good as it will get, with possibly hyper local, minimal improvements.

In traveling throughout the US I don't really know how high speed rail is really going to improve anything outside of like the LA to San Fransisco and the existing Acela coverage area (which is essentially following the flow of I-95 anyway). Even maximizing the Acela flow would just being eminent domain to the existing private rail lines to allow expansion and enhancement beyond what they have already. Part of the reason in the Northeast and in general in the US that rail is so weird is because so much of it is privately owned while the interstates and roads are public services. You can't compel people to make efficient change for benefit of passenger rail, where as with the interstates they forced eminent domain suits through to make it happen well after initial infrastructure was established.

The other major consumer of rail in the US is freight and they don't generally need high speed rail, and so while I would enjoy having more high speed rail lines as an option I haven't been able to rationalize the use case. Private rail permits use by passenger rail but does not prioritize for it.

Here was a good slide deck that I had been using as reference for a while that has good data on how Amtrak exists at all: https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/Planning/freight_planning/talking_f...

> In traveling throughout the US I don't really know how high speed rail is really going to improve anything outside of like the LA to San Fransisco and the existing Acela coverage area

I wouldn't ignore the routes that connect Chicago to the rest of the Midwest:

- Route, FY2015 Passengers, ~Distance (miles)

- Chicago – St. Louis, 576,705, 295

- Chicago – Milwaukee, 799,271, 92

- Chicago – Pontiac via Detroit 465,627, 280

These numbers are despite the truly awful experience, in many cases, of waiting long periods for freight traffic to pass. These distances are in the sweet-spot for HSR, which could be quite popular on these routes.

The Chicago-St. Louis route would be almost entirely over extremely flat agricultural land. If routed correctly, the only challenges would be crossing some rural highways and floodplains. In order to really take advantage of HSR, one would hope that politics wouldn't require silly stops in e.g. Springfield or Champaign. Chicago seems to make a lot of sense as a hub for a new rail network of this sort, but one suspects third-city bias will prevent that.

Hiawatha Service (Chicago<->MKE) does not seem to have issues with freight traffic. It does occasionally have to yield to Metra but is overall pretty reliable.

The long pole for speed is lower speed limits in some parts of the route for the benefit of neighbors living along the tracks. Those politics are unlikely to be affected by the technical infrastructure.

At ~90 minutes, the journey from Milwaukee is better than the commute from many parts of Chicagoland.

In the US, true HSR (by which I mean 220mph/350km/h service) is not viable outside of the Northeast (where Acela already exists), California, and maybe Texas. Medium-speed rail, running around 125mph, could probably be viable in a Midwest network centered on Chicago, but the needs of Chicago's commuter rail and freight rail networks likely preclude mixing higher speed intercity trains with generally slower local and freight trains on a reliable schedule, and there's insufficient demand to warrant dedicating track for higher speed transit.

It's a shame that the NEC hasn't been brought up to higher speeds than 125mph, but that's largely a function of the remediation needed to do that costing serious money [1] and the politics of infrastructure disbursement not favoring doling out cash to favor largely the NYC area.

[1] You need, at a minimum, new track with less curves in most of suburban of CT; new Hudson River tunnels; new Portal Bridge; at least a third track in the MD-DE stretch (including a new bridge on the Susquehanna); and replacement of the B&P tunnel, whose condition was "this needs to be replaced" when Amtrak was started and has degraded to "how hasn't this failed yet?"

Texas is an interesting case: it would benefit enormously from high speed rail connecting the major Metros (DFW, Austin, San Antonio and Houston) but the State Government is run by boneheads who keep suing the feds over DACA and working on inane bathroom bills.

Seriously this would transform the state. Make all the tech talent in Austin available to energy companies in Houston. Integrate the tech talent market for Austin and DFW. And the land over which the rail would be built is pretty flat as well.

The "Texas Central" will provide one leg of the Texas Triangle before long. We'll see how that works out. The later addition of a leg to Austin/San Antonio would make a lot of sense. But there's not good prospects for any broader regional connections, unless HSR proves to be very popular and profitable.

> In the US, true HSR (by which I mean 220mph/350km/h service) is not viable outside of the Northeast (where Acela already exists), California, and maybe Texas

What is this based on? Certainly there have been many studies. Also, to be clear, Acela is not HSR by that definition.

I can imagine many other places: Florida, then north to Atlanta and west to New Orleans, and then connecting to Texas. DC down to NC, then Atlanta, then connecting to Florida. Vancouver (with some international cooperation) to Seattle to Portland to the Bay Area, connecting to the rest of California. A Midwest network of St Louis, Kansas City, Indianapolis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Detroit, Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati, Pittsburgh (connecting to the east coast via Philadelphia), and north from Detroit to Toronto and Montreal. Las Vegas and Phoenix might want a connect to the California network.

Once you hit the 4 hour mark for travel time, ridership craters. That means at around 500-600 miles (just because the top speed is 220mph doesn't mean the train averages that speed), it's infeasible to have service, especially if you don't have the ability to hook multiple cities up on the line. DC to Boston is on the long edge of this line, but the DC-Boston route services every combination of DC, Baltimore, Philly, NYC, Boston at no extra marginal cost, so it's worth it.

You also need to have evidence of strong existing demand between city pairs (this is basically Florida's problem; there's just not enough travel between its major cities), and you also want a decent urban mass transit system (this is where Texas suffers).

Hitting 220mph service needs dedicated track--you can't mix trains of different speed regimes on the same track without very strict schedule reliability, and the US just doesn't have that reliability. 125mph is more doable, if you have ample opportunity to do the passing, although you still need better reliability than the US sees now. The Midwest just doesn't have the demand to justify building dedicated track, so it's not worth 220mph service.

Yes, Acela is not true HSR, and it's a crying shame because the NEC is the best, or very nearly the best, place in the world to put HSR. But outside of the NEC, the US is simply too big, and its major cities simply too far apart from each other, to put HSR in.

An Atlanta train could then easily connect to Nashville, too.

In Europe most high speed rails use dedicated tracks. For example, tracks for high speed trains are welded together, unlike tracks for slower trains. Instead of leaving a small gaps along the track, high speed tracks deal with thermal expansion by pre-stressing the tracks with hydraulic tensors [1] as they are welded (so high speed trains have no too-toom-too-toom :-))

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rail_stressing

It seems most tracks today are welded for less maintenance: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Track_(rail_transport)#Conti...

AFAIK basically all new rail installations, even freight, are continuous rail. At least in the US. Been that way for quite a while now.

Somehow this stuff got built before. There must be a way to get back into that state.

Wartime. The interstate highway system got built because Eisenhower saw firsthand how effective having a national road network is for logistics in times of war, and so it became a national security concern. The transcontinental railroad was financed by the Department of War and greatly accelerated when the Southern states seceded - Congress had been denying funding for a decade before, but the first season after the war started, it was approved.

It'll likely be the same for high-speed rail, hyperloops, and under-city tunnels. Once we're at war again there will be a huge incentive to be able to move large quantities of people across the country within hours, and ideally do so out of the reach of aerial bombardment.

It would be nice if we could do this without blowing everything up, though.

> It'll likely be the same for high-speed rail, hyperloops, and under-city tunnels.

Please don't make the mistake of equating the hyperloop scheme with reputable and tried-and-true railway services. Hyperloop is at best a marketing gimmick based on naive and ill-informed notions of what it takes to run a vehicle in a track, while real railway services are mundane technologies which have been proven to work for at least half a century.

Railroads were very far from reputable services when they were first being built. The history of these is fascinating; you think tech scams are bad today, you should've seen the machinations of Jay Gould [1] or Thomas Durant [2]. Many early railroads failed to get completed at all, or if they did, the trains would blow up on the tracks and kill a bunch of passengers.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jay_Gould

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Transcontinental_Railroa...

Apples and oranges. Your examples refer to specific business ventures initiated in a time where steam-powered rail transport was already a century old and with a proven track record, while hyperloop is a pie-in-the-sky scheme that is both technically and economically unfeasible. It's like comparing flying cars with the DeLorean.

> at best a marketing gimmick

Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is not wisdom. A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past; he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future. The future can be better than the past. According to the data it has been [1][2][3]. So optimism isn't a fluffy ideal to scoff at.

Newton's laws make it clear that approaching vacuum allows for greater speeds. An object in motion will remain in motion unless an outside force acts upon it [4]. Therefore, the greater part of truth is out of reach of cynicism.

What is more likely, that a man who heads a company that works in the space sector would think that moving through a near-vacuum was honestly more efficient [5]? Or that he would propose it merely as a marketing gimmick? And why can't it be both?

[1]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCm9Ng0bbEQ

[2]: https://www.ted.com/talks/hans_and_ola_rosling_how_not_to_be...

[3]: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/04/bill-gates-the-world-would-b...

[4]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newton%27s_laws_of_motion

[5]: https://themysteriousworld.com/top-10-fastest-man-made-objec...

Your nation has always been at war.

The reason your infrastructure sucks is because your nation would rather spend money on war than anything else.

After witnessing 2008, I'm not sure that even another Great Depression would get America back to the New Deal mindset. Politicians would just blame welfare recipients, or something.

It was the government forcing banks to lend to people who would normally not qualify for mortgage loans that caused the crisis in the first place. The people who the banks accurately predicted couldn't pay and were normally denied loans were instead actually given loans, subsequently couldn't pay, aaaand everything collapsed.

I think that the securitization and sell off of these mortgage backed securities were the banks trying to pass the hot potato off onto somebody else. They knew it would blow up, only the financially illiterate, and busybody do-gooders in government with a regulatory gun to the banks heads didn't see it coming with predictable results.

"Several candidates made the argument at the debate that the government forced mortgage lenders to make bad loans. But in reality, most subprime loans were made by companies that were not subject to any kind of federal regulation."

"No executive of a major mortgage company said at the time that the government was forcing them to make subprime loans. They said they did it because they thought they would make money. And even now, after the crash of the housing market, with all the temptation to point fingers, it is awfully hard to find a mortgage executive who echoes the argument"


Was there some incentive from government then, was there some kind of deregulation or some other kind of regulatory change? Why would this subprime lending begin in the first place do we know?

Subprime is a great way to make money if you can manage the risk.

Before the crisis, people figured out that if you bundled a lot of them together and sliced up the bundle in clever ways, you could shuffle the risk around and manage it better. People who wanted riskier assets could get them, and people who wanted safer assets with lower returns could get them too.

Except this only works if you actually evaluate the risk correctly. If you underestimate the potential for large-scale default due to, say, a sudden drop in house prices, then everything gets screwed up, and people who bought “safe” assets suddenly find themselves losing their investment.

The government?

It was demand for mortgage-backed securities (viewed as traditionally safe assets for investment) from investment funds that led to more and more lenient mortgage qualifications to increase supply, weakening the previous strength of those securities overall that, through layers of financial indirection (see tranches), were not valued correctly until too late (with the subsequent credit default swap responsibilities crippling interbank loaning).

This was targeted predatory lending, often targeted at people who already had home equity in some form. This was not something significantly exacerbated by the FHA.

ah ok, so demand for MBS --> led to some kind of lobbying for deregulation---> which led to the deregulation actually happening ---> which led to unscrupulous individuals subprime lending so they could package it up as MBS and sell those off to make money

Absolutely false. The subprime crisis was not caused by 'government mandated' lending to traditionally undeserved parts of the population.

Anyone pushing that narrative is trying to pushing a implicitly racist 'reason' for the financial crisis: "it was all them loans to the black people that did it" .

Ok well I'm out to lunch then, I read that somewhere but can no longer remember where.

The defining factor of that state is a willingness to disenfranchise neighbors and obliterate communities for the sake of convenience. Politics are now far too sensitive to local constituents’ rights and opinions to permit the construction of infrastructure nearly as good as the interstate highway system. A system optimized for utility will be less useful than one balancing utility and social justice.

That’s a really interesting point and I’m sure it has a huge impact, but it can’t be the whole story. For example, the DC Metro suffers from this inability to get much done, and absurd costs and timelines when it does, yet most of their projects are underground or use existing rights of way.

Tunneling isn’t cheap. Much simpler to demolish whatever is in the way and make cross traffic wait (traditional rail) or go to one of a few specific overpass/underpass points (freeways). But such options are no longer even taken seriously. It’s just assumed that new transit must not interfere with the status quo. That has a cost, and it comes out of overall effectiveness. Projects built in an era of higher tolerance for political hubris didn’t have that problem.

I agree it’s not the whole story, but it’s something.

We did lots of tunnels before, though. Or look at Metro’s proposal for a western extension to the Orange Line. The track would be down the median of a highway that’s currently just grass. Not a single person would be displaced, nor would any tunneling need to happen. Still no movement on it after decades.

It was built when the top marginal tax rate in the United States was above 70 percent, a level which would make a lot of people go into fits of apoplectic rage if you were to suggest it now.

If we want better roads, another space shuttle, the next wave beyond the integrated circuit, etc... most prudent course of action would be to reinstate the internal revenue act of 1954.

You could try spending less on shiny war machines and more on your people, also.

> It was built when the top marginal tax rate in the United States was above 70 percent, a level which would make a lot of people go into fits of apoplectic rage if you were to suggest it now.

...a rate which almost nobody actually paid, given the copious methods for reducing tax liability available at the time (most of which have since been eliminated).

Wait, what?

Some interesting statistics of tax rates: https://bradfordtaxinstitute.com/Free_Resources/Federal-Inco...

- During WWI it peaked at 77% - During WWII it peaked at 94%!!

It didn't really, though. That's the marginal income rate, not capital gains -- it's a tax rate for an empty bracket. It was super effective wartime grandstanding which is still fooling everyone decades later.

Capital gains -- the rate the upper class actually pays -- has never risen above 35% at the federal level. And that's within a few points of 2018 marginal rates when we factor in state level taxes for places like California. The tax moved from federal to state (or to earmarked federal, like NIIT)

Capital gains:

1945: 35% federal + 6% state = 41%

2018: 25% federal + 3.8% NIIT + 13.1% state = 41.9%

Prior to losing SALT, wealthy Californians paid slightly lower marginal rates than in 1945. Trump's changes cause the current marginal tax rate for wealthy Californians to be higher than in 1945 -- the year you're calling out as a peak.

No one really paid 94%.

It did affect certain people, though, like movie actors like Ronald Reagan. His stated rationale for supply-side economics was that back during WW2, him and his peers would do 2 movies/year and then be done working, because doing a 3rd would put them in the top tax bracket and the government would get all the money.


Yeah. I should say "virtually no one." The tax did apply to a very tiny proportion of high end income.

Highest federal tax rate by year, 1918 - 2017: https://bradfordtaxinstitute.com/LibRepository/235f37bd-612d...

The bulk of the interstate highway system was built between 1960 and 1980.

And tax deductions were much higher then than now. Nobody actually paid those rates.

The percentage of GDP collected as income taxes is about the same then as it is now. In fact, the top 1% paid less of the total taxes during the New Deal than now.[1]


This is one of the costs of diversity. People don’t work together towards shared goals anymore since they characterize the other people benefiting as un-American/unpersons.

That sounds more like a cost of bigotry and intolerance.

It’s actually the combination of both which is a problem. As you say, diversity wouldn’t be a problem if there were no bigots and intolerant people, but conversely, bigots and intolerant people weren’t as much of a problem when there was less diversity.

Sure, in the same way that a shooting murder requires someone to be in the path of the bullet, not just someone to pull the trigger.

Yes, of course, but the bigots and intolerants (i.e. the people shooting bullets) were here first. Introducing diversity into this world full of bigots and intolerants does create problems, and it’s a bit disingenuous to disclaim all responsibility when only pushing for diversity when you know it’s going to cause problems, especially since it’s mostly going to cause problems for the very minorities that diversity is ostensibly meant to help.

To be clear; I’m not blaming the actual victims of bigots and intolerants, nor do I want to remove any blame from the bigots and intolerants. I simply want to add some blame to those blindly pushing diversity without regard to who gets hurt.

The bigots were here first? Are you not aware of native Americans or African slaves? I can’t even.

Those are/were acts of war – a different class of problem, I would argue.

I don’t understand what you’re saying. Diversity in the form of descendants of slaves didn’t have the negative effect you’re claiming back when the railroads or interstate highways were being built because slave imports were an act of war?

The negative effects affecting the descendants of slaves can be traced back to being caused by the act of war that was abducting slaves in the first place. Absent any such abnormal occurrences, the bigots and intolerants could have lived a mostly peaceful existence in their non-diversified environment. As I said, it’s the combination of diversity and bigots/intolerants that makes a problem, not any one of them in isolation. One could well argue that it’s the very historical importing of slaves into the U.S. that is the cause of poor race relations today, just as much as it is caused by racists. If integration of the two cultures had been allowed to happen slowly and naturally by individual migration, a different situation might have developed.

> bigots and intolerant people weren’t as much of a problem when there was less diversity.

Generations of abused minorities and women might beg to differ, from slavery to lynchings to internment camps to mass oppression, abused people from Germany (yes, you read that correctly), Italy, Ireland, China, Japan ... people who were Jewish, Catholic, Latino, African-American (of course), etc etc. etc. would all say otherwise. Assuming you are talking about the U.S., until 1920, women couldn't even vote. Until the approximately the generation who came of age in the 1980s, they didn't have access to most of the labor market - unless their husband gave permission (maybe that ended around the 1950s and 1960s) - and in most fields they still are excluded from the top positions and in many fields are still excluded from most positions except HR, receptionist, and organizing the office party.

EDIT: Some updates

The I95 is a 1900-mile long interstate highway...

That being said, with the exception of public transit systems like the NYMTA, etc., essentially all of the rail in the US is privately owned, and was privately funded.

> That being said, with the exception of public transit systems like the NYMTA, etc., essentially all of the rail in the US is privately owned, and was privately funded.

Government grants to railroads have a rich history. The B&O was partially owned by the state of Maryland (and had an exemption from state taxes!). Most of the western railroads were financed by the government giving them adjacent land to their tracks for free.

I think state to state partnerships with federal funding help could do it.

You need massive popular support for it to ensure that successive governments keep the already-made plans on time and on budget, as opposed to getting in there and tweaking everything in order to make it their own (and thereby pushing it all out by 5-10 years).

I have hopes for The Boring Company.

Repeat after me: Elon Musk is not the solution to all my problems.

More seriously though: its easy to bank all your hopes on one person that seems to deliver things but this isn't how it works in real life. We need a system where its easier to plan and build infrastructure. Not to accept the system as given and wait for superheros who will fix it all by themselves.

I suppose the invention of the train and automobile by "superheroes" wasn't how real life worked either. In reality they were designed entirely by government committees.

Would it be better if we were more proactive as a society in investing in infrastructure? Sure. That doesn't detract from the fact that I like the prospects of what The Boring Company might accomplish.

> These projects are simply to expensive for private entities to undertake

The problem is not how expensive high-speed railway projects are. The problem is that in general, with a couple of notable exceptiobs, high-speed railway services are massive money drains with absolutely no viable business model.

If their natural unprofitability is compounded with infrastructure costs then the problem is further compounded.

That's the main reason why private entities routinely invest more money in some profitable projects but they stay clear of even investing in conventional railway services.

The North East Corridor is profitable.

“the most traveled highway in America, spanning 1,900 miles from Miami to Maine.”

Who pays for all the roads? The gas tax doesn’t cover it.

I’d think that between Boston and at least DC, there’s a need to travel by train at 225 mph. With a little vision, it could go to Miami.

The challenge in Boston is that the North Station and the South Station don't connect to each other, so there can be no thru-service to the north. Connecting them has often been mooted, but, well, Boston IS the home of the Big Dig.

This doesn't really change much unless you spend much time in/around Philly.

As it currently stands, there is no direct interstate highway between Philly and New York. If you ever take a Bolt or Megabus between the two cities you'll notice it usually takes exit 4 on the Turnpike and drives through suburban Cherry Hill NJ to get into Philly. To get between the two cities you have to exit and take a more local road through NJ for a couple miles. This interchange will connect it so you can go directly from "Pennsylvania 95" to I276 to "NJ Turnpike 95". (Except now all called "95")

If you are driving direct from New York/Boston to DC, you'll in all likelihood never see this interchange and continue take the NJ Turnpike all the way down to Delaware in order to bypass Philadelphia traffic and construction.

For sixty years, and maybe more, there have been those in either the press or politics that claim America's roads and bridges are disintegrating and the end is near. Yet I have lived in multiple regions of the country, in both dense and sparse populations, and if there's any impression I've had is that there is a very sustained, robust, and aggressive effort to maintain roads and bridges. In fact, it's something that has always amazed me as a visual indication of the magnitude and strength of the economy. Is there reliable data over this period that actually shows a downward trend? If there is, it's not referenced in this article.

The only statistics I ever see cited are those of the American Society of Civil Engineers, an interest group with a vested interest in increased infrastructure funding. I'm not hostile to the idea that we should spend more on maintenance, but I agree that we need some data from a less obviously compromised source. And that is setting aside the problem that increased funding has self-evidently not resulted in better quality of infrastructure. Kickbacks and corruption are rampant in that sector, a fact made clear recently in my hometown and county, which has seen a raft of corruption indictments and convictions related to public works projects over the last few years.

I can understand your skepticism, but the ASCE is a long-standing, globally respected professional association for credentialed civil engineers - the annual infrastructure report cards they issue are based on the field surveys that not only ASCE member engineers but that various local government and non-government bodies from all around the country take part in and carry out as well.

If you say that you don't want to trust data compiled and reviewed by an association of civil engineers, then you should probably stop using ADA approved toothpaste and cease getting those AMA recommended medical check-ups.

I hope that didn't come across too harshly, but there seems to be a wave of anti-intellectualism that has been spreading across the US. Obviously that sentiment has formed in no small part due to actual abuses that have been carried out by those with vested interests, but we need to be careful that we don't take what would otherwise be a healthy skepticism of the actions and proscriptions of organizations too far and mis-trust all professional organizations or everything that they publish...

It's not "anti-intellectualism" to be skeptical of the word of someone who stands to directly benefit from the course of action they recommend. I'm quite sure that the ASCE is a fine organization populated by conscientious and well-meaning people, but there's a reason why scientists use double-blind studies, and why judges recuse themselves from cases in which they have an interest.

I agree that we shouldn't take skepticism of expertise too far, and I'm rather baffled at how you'd attribute the sentiment you're denouncing to my comment. What I want is more evidence from more sources. Only the most uncharitable reading of my point would conclude I'm advocating any srt of anti-intellectualism.

A lot of transportation infrastructure is not maintained using federal funds, so the upkeep on bridges and roads varies a lot from state to state and even from city to city. Some larger cities may be able to put enough funds to maintain a bridge, but for smaller cities it may not be a high priority. Your experience may be an outlier in this regard.

2007: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I-35W_Mississippi_River_bridge

75000 other bridges had the same "structurally deficient" classification in 2007. The I-35 bridge was at the 4th percentile for structural sufficiency when rated with 100000 bridges in 2005.

We are sending out engineers every year to look at bridges, and every year they are very nervous when turning in their reports. Whether things get fixed or not is often due to the economic situation at the time the report is made, and the local political will.

What I'm mainly worried about is dams, not bridges: https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/local/commun...

Reminds me of the Growth Ponzi Scheme:

We've done this because, as with any Ponzi scheme, new growth provides the illusion of prosperity. In the near term, revenue grows, while the corresponding maintenance obligations — which are not counted on the public balance sheet — are a generation away.


Glad they finished that. Now if they could just complete I-70 in Breezewood PA...

I knew I'd see something about Breezewood in here. For those who've never had the pleasure, just before you hit the PA Turnpike, there's a 500m gap in I-70 where you are forced to exit and reenter all while dodging a minefeild of gas stations, red lights and fast food. Those 500m can add 30 mins to your trip. It exists as a political aberration. In the 60's, the feds and state couldn't agree who should pay for an interchange connecting the two roads, so no one did. Like a stubborn wart on the highway system, Breezewood remains.

I think Breezewood would cease to exist if that happened. There's not a lot going on there besides confused drivers trying to figure out why they're not on the interstate any more.

Meanwhile, in China they can build an entire railway station in one night. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/chinese-worker...

Now let’s fix the parts in NC and SC where it goes down to two lanes and gets backed up every day.

I was curious about how much that'd cost. At least for SC, it was estimated at ~4 billion [0] in early 2017. There's a proposal saying they could raise ~600 million of that per year by increasing the gas tax by 10 cents/gallon. I don't know where that proposal went, if anywhere.

[0] https://www.thestate.com/news/politics-government/article128...

They can’t widen the highways fast enough!

I hear in China they’re building tens of thousands of miles of fast trains. Fast and slow maglev trains, etc.

Wait until there are 500 million Americans. Maybe then we’ll think of better solutions.

Wait another 15 years...

Guess we're just going pretend that I-95 through Boston was completed then? Instead Route 128 was relabeled I-95 after Governor Sargent cancelled plans for it.


I really don't understand the problem. From NY to just outside Philadelphia, I-95 is part of the Jersey Turnpike. Then the Jersey turnpike is suddenly labeled I-295, and I-95 teleports to the highway running through Philadelphia. You can see it from this map [1]. They both then meet up again in Wilmington, where they both merge into 1-95 again. Why not just keep the designation of I-95 on the Jersey Turnpike throughout the entirety of New Jersey?


Because the southern part of the NJ Turnpike (exits 6 through 1) is not constructed to Interstate standards at all points. Things like lane width, curve radius, visibility distance, shoulder space.

There are a lot of Interstates that don't meet Interstate standards, such as every one in NYC.

I read somewhere (looking for the link now) that back when the highway system was being planned, it was felt that i95 had to go through all the major cities down the eastern seaboard, and it would be an "insult" to Philadelphia to give its highway another designation.

Yes, it would have been be logical to simply redesignate the NJ Turnpike as i95 for its duration, and relabel the highway that goes through Philly with another number, but instead we got the craziness that exists till today.

The NJT is not I-295. I-295 runs about a mile or two west of the NJT.

In some cases about 50 yards west

I-710 in Los Angeles is another freeway that's taken 60+ years (proposed in 1954), and at this point I don't think it's ever going to be connected to the I-210.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interstate_710

It took about 20 years just to complete the interchange between I5 and I405 at Alderwood. It was constantly being torn down and rebuilt. The cost must have been incredible.

... and it's still a disaster that completely clogs I-5, particularly northbound, to a standstill. Wonderfully done, y'all!

Tolls. Oh yippee

User fees are the most "fair" way to pair for infrastructure. It's not economically efficient to collect taxes on fuel in the aggregate, and then piecemeal out highway funding by any other metric than usage (although it makes for great politics).

Far from it, toll roads reduce congestion on non toll roads so non toll payers also benefit from them.

If you want an improvement then paying by weight and mileage would be more fair unlike our current system which discounts trucks which do far more damage than their fuel usage accounts for. But, tolls are on net an even worse system than we already have.

>so non toll payers also benefit from them.

That's just a glass half full way of saying that tolls keep poor people from taking trips that would involve those roads so the roads are less busy. $5 or $10 isn't much when your lunch is an overpriced $15 bagel at some trendy authentic restaurant. People who are packing PB&J to the job side avoid the toll road even if it takes longer

Road tolls are just another regressive tax. If the state senators don't want to sit in the same gridlock as the plebes they should take the train, not tax the plebes off the road. If the train is also too crowded they should increase infrastructure spending on one/both counts until the clusterfuck is reduced to a point they're ok with.

Tolls never go away. The best the poor people can hope for is that they don't get inflation adjusted so that there's a 10-20yr run where it's affordable to use the road before the politicians realize that the toll is low and raise it again.

It's not just about people making the same trip from A->B now using the toll or not. Local roads backup when highways backup. So, the difference can end up very significant even for trips that don't go near the toll roads.

This is a good point, but road use tolls don't have to be the same all day long. Charge more during rush hour, and poor drivers will find ways to use the road at other times.

In practice that means that the tolls are expensive enough to be a PITA for poor people all the time and a PITA for everyone but the rich during peak times. See the DC area for examples.

It may be grim, but in the short term that's probably the best we can do. DC should have fewer drivers and more public transit commuters: that would be a better place to live and work. They're not going to hold a lottery to let one poor dude drive in his own lane and stick some rich dude on a bus.

Your argument applies to congestion charging on existing roads. Using tolls to fund additional capacity that wouldn't otherwise exist is a different thing.

Could you go into more detail? I always wondered why public roads would opt for awful toll plaza back-ups over increasing the gas tax.

Trucks cause more wear and tear, not all people use highways either who purchase gas

Gas tax wouldn’t solve congestion on a specific piece of the road. Also, there is no need for toll plazas with the new high speed camera setups. They’re not even really new, Canada has had them for decade(s).

You don't have to put a toll gate and slow everyone down to 15mph to collect a toll. Open-road tolling, such as in the Chicago region, can easily read a transponder (or a license plate) at 70mph. Some places have gone so far as to move to all-electronic tolling, with no toll booths (e.g., Mass turnpike).

Many more crossings in the NY metro area are now open-tolled for both EZPass and toll-by-mail: Whitestone, Throgs Neck, Tappan Zee

Yep, the tolling in the Seattle area works similarly - no booths, just profit, even if you're hauling ass at 85mph

All-to-real scenario: you pay $X in gas taxes and use Road XYZ every day. Unfortunately, Road XYZ is constantly jammed and full of pot holes because all the gas tax cash is funding an extremely under-used fancy new highway connecting Nowheresville, USA to SlightlyLessNowheresville, USA. Why? Because the general assemblymen from Nowheresville and SlightlyLessNowheresville are senior members of the transportation committee.

> I always wondered why public roads would opt for awful toll plaza back-ups over increasing the gas tax.

Open-road tolling with a combination of transceivers and a "pay online later" solves this problem. Toll plazas (and the people who work them) are entirely unnecessary.

It's not really an issue these days. In this area, EZ-Pass is pushed hard, and makes toll plazas a non-issue for the most part. There is very little need to slow down as most can just capture your license plate number and charge you that way, making the entire experience easy. This ensures that the roads that actually get used get the money from people using them, something that doesn't happen with a gas tax.

>In this area, EZ-Pass is pushed hard

Because it has the side benefit of being an easier/cheaper way to track people than license plate cameras. They could just do pay by plate and give people a paperless discount if they only wanted to save money. I bet EZpass gets a cut too so that adds yet another dimension to it.

>There is very little need to slow down

Yet morons still feel the need to do so creating the same traffic jams that high speed tolling was supposed to solve...

>This ensures that the roads that actually get used get the money from people using them

This is what they said about I90 in MA "the tolls will just stick around long enough to pay for the cost of construction." The it was "it'll only be used to pay for maintenance". Famous last words. We all know how that turned out, just another revenue stream it's impossible to take away or account for the use of.

> Because it has the side benefit of being an easier/cheaper way to track people than license plate cameras. They could just do pay by plate and give people a paperless discount if they only wanted to save money. I bet EZpass gets a cut too so that adds yet another dimension to it.

A lot of the E-ZPass system is about the simplification of the back-office processing. When you get a transponder, you have an account set up to do the debiting and also identify your current mailing address. License plate recognition, by contrast, requires getting details from different databases, and the mapping to the vehicle owner is less robust. It really is easier for the toll providers if they use a transponder system than it is to do license plate recognition.

Also, E-ZPass is an interagency consortium, not a company. It's actually largely run by the Port Authority of NY and NJ. The only fee that appears to be collected is a one-time $10 to use the trademark.

>Yet morons still feel the need to do so creating the same traffic jams that high speed tolling was supposed to solve...

In Chicagoland, everybody seems to have no issue ripping through toll gates at 75-80 miles per hour. I assure you we are no smarter than anywhere else.

They can be a good allocation method, but often you get 'premium' roads and weird routing because of splitting things up.

Now if there was a toll on all major roads of 2c a mile for cars and ten times that for trucks, then I'd be all for it.

Economically, that's pretty much what a gas tax does.

If you ignore the part about allocating money, yes. But the allocation was rather the point of the comment I was responding to.

The problem with tolls, and gas taxes and vehicle registrations for that matter, is that they disproportionally affect the poor. I, and many on HN might not give the marginal cost second thought, but for many it adds up.

Does it? Unless you mean the poor will have a harder time shouldering a similar tax rate, I'm not certain why poorer people would be using the roads more often than richer people. That said, there's no reason a toll system couldn't be given a progressive by setting different rates for different tax tiers or something. Rates could be associated with individual vehicles.

For those who drive, certainly. Road tolls in my experience have been either a flat fee (e.g., the ones around Chicago, IL) or by distance traveled (e.g., the Ohio Turnpike). This is effectively a flat tax rate, not a progressive rate. Thus it will have a greater financial impact on someone with a low paying job who drives.

You have a point, and charging too little in certain taxes is one strategy to help the poor.

I'd rather keep the tax and give them money, but that seems... difficult in the current political climate.

This article talks about increased mobility as the end goal. Clearly the highway transportation act did not actually increase mobility. Mobility is design in a sense to require less commutes with multi use land use.

This instead forces users to have to commute large lengths regardless in a system that was designed, specifically, to reduce mobility all through the United states.

If you think the article is clearly wrong to use a certain word, consider the possibility that they're using a different definition than you are.

I, for one, would never identify "requiring less commutes" as a key facet of mobility. To me, it means that it is easier to get around – and on a large scale, that's absolutely the (successful) goal of the interstate system.

It wasn't just individual or commercial mobility, but also internal lines of communication for national defense, that motivated the Eisenhower interstate highway system. The official name of the interstate system is the "Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways." By that measure, what's important is whether you can get an APC from Pennsylvania to D.C. quickly, not whether you can get to your office in a timely fashion.

Edit: presidential spelling

The interstate system was responsible for decimating entire down towns, completely reducing any sense of mobility for all parties involved. Uprooting trolly systems that spanned across large parts of the country. It's not a specific issue with the word, it's a issue with what the overall view of highways portrayed by the article, and the reason it was done to begin with.

I'm not an American, so wholly ignorant on this, but how was the uprooting of the trolly systems the result of the interstate system?

This isn't a subject with easy or even straightforward answers.

There's no question that the rise of the automobile in the 1920s and later the development of the interstate highway system had a profound effect on city planning in the US. But the decline of interurban streetcars started well before the latter, and in many instances, even before the former; in which case, the interstate system accelerated an existing problem rather than creating it.

Nearly all streetcar/trolley lines were operated by private entities, and carried significant capital costs and ongoing maintenance concerns. Shortsighted agreements that gave monopoly or near-monopoly status to lines in exchange for fixed fares (the "five cent fare") . Those same agreements were financial albatrosses in the face of post-war inflation, and lines had varying degrees of success in pushing for minor fare increases. In New York in 1919, streetcar lines in Albany, Syracuse, Utica, and Troy were allowed to increase fares to six cents while New York City rejected any increase.[0] By the 1920s, many of the country's streetcar lines had gone out of business; almost all had major financial struggles. This quote sums up the challenge:

> . Charles E. Chalmers, receiver of the bankrupt Second Avenue Railroad, despaired of gaining relief. “The five-cent street car fare has become an American institution, and, as railroad operators, we must realize that this question of fare will be constantly with us. It will be a stumbling block as long as street cars run, and in New York City our people are wedded to the five-cent fare.”2

Attempts to ease tax and decades-old paving requirements on streetcar companies were met with failure, even as they further undermined cashflow. "“During the ten years from 1911 to 1920, the street railroads of New York State each year expended for paving alone an amount equal to an average of 23.4% of their net income, or to put it another way, the paving expense has amounted to approximately 5% of the total operating expenses of street railroads during that time" (60). Over 35% of NYC's paved area was maintained by street railroads. Worse, the railroads wound up subsidizing automobiles. Per J.C. Thirwall of GE's railway engineering department, "So long as municipalities offer the use of smooth pavements free of charge to all commercial vehicles and compel the railway company to pay not only for its own tracks but for much of the paving as well, a considerable bonus is offered to users of buses" (61). It also didn't help that politicians and the public at large saw street railroad owners as the prototypical villains of their day. Taken together, it all eventually combined to harm the streetcar's ability to compete with buses.[1]

General Motors may have played a role in the final waning years of the streetcar, but only after the streetcar was already dying well before the federal government started subsidizing highways. Other factors were also involved. * Suburbanizing the Masses: Public Transport and Urban Development in Historical Perspective* is a fascinating series of essays analyzing how public transportation have shaped city planning since the 1850s.[2] A number of the essays cover street railways in particular.

The same goes for the development of sprawl; there's an interesting study from 2015 that looked at street connectivity to measure sprawl and suggests that it predates the highway-centric city planning during the 50s that's widely labeled as the starting point:

> First, Fig. 1 indicates a rise in sprawl since the mid-1920s, with an acceleration after 1950. The early beginning of sprawl is notable, given that it predates the postwar era of mass car ownership. However, it provides quantitative evidence to confirm historical accounts that date the emergence of cul-de-sacs and similar departures from gridiron street patterns to the early to mid-20th century. Southworth and Ben-Joseph (17), for example, note the influence of the 1928 design, with cul-de-sacs prominently featured, for Radburn, New Jersey; they also point to the influence of recommendations for cul-de-sacs in reports by the Committee on Subdivision Layout (1932), Federal Housing Administration (1936), and Institute for Transportation Engineers (1965). These discrete events do not capture the more gradual evolution in street network design from the 1950s through the early 21st century, but our results closely match the archetypal patterns reported in ref. 17 and illustrated in the Lower panel of Fig. 1. [1]

There have absolutely been major negative consequences arising from how highway financing and subsidies were handled in the 50s. But many of the problems stemmed from how highways were viewed as "the greatest single element in the cure of city ills."[4] The "artery" model was used by city planners to effectively gut their own cities, possibly in a way that Eisenhower himself never expected.[5] When city planners wanted to get rid of poor people and "slums," which were predominantly African-American, the solution was to pave over their neighborhoods. The federal government even helped them pay for most of it. Highways became a cheap, easy tool for city planners as a result of these policies, and that had some truly disastrous consequences.[6] Setting aside the social consequences, cities were paving the road for their tax bases to--literally--leave town. There are a number of excellent books and essays on the subject. Despite that, it's important to recognize that there's a difference between the bulk of the interstate highway system and its most problematic parts in and around urban cores.

Anyhow, getting back to the article, it's written in the context of the system--flaws and all--that we've got right now. In this context, completing the missing link on I-95 does increase mobility. That's a given. More than just this stretch of highway, there are trillions of dollars worth of private development and public infrastructure that have been built in an America with the highway systems as-is. Of that infrastructure, there's a $2+ trillion maintenance funding gap. Worse yet, as elements reach their designated end of life, it all will eventually need to be replaced. The sum total of that bill is yet to come due.

Would we have been better off had city-planners not seen highways as the hammer to their perceived nails (i.e. problems--redevelopment, transportation/mobility, etc.)? Probably. The good news is that modern city planning recognizes this, and attempts to correct for some of the consequences. Unfortunately, this can only happen incrementally. That's a slow, decades-long process and it's easy to miss just how long it's going to take or the kind of compromises that are necessary.

We're getting there. But in the meantime, we still have to maintain and update all of the rest of our infrastructure--even that which represents the biggest mistakes made during highway development in the 50s.

0. https://zacharyschrag.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/41-1sch...

1. https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2013/06/be-careful-ho...

2. https://www.amazon.com/Suburbanizing-Masses-Development-Hist...

3. http://www.pnas.org/content/112/27/8244

4. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/03/role-of...

5. https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2011/11/death-row-urb...

6. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1392502

Projects like these should be sponsored by private firms. Let them put up ads/billboards on the sponsored highway. This can provide fund to finish the project.

I doubt that billboards would recoup much of the cost of interstate highways, they go through major metropolitan centers often only every couple hundred miles and billboard ads really aren't that expensive.

Highways are not apps, friend.

Turnpikes were only profitable in the pre-freeway era; trying to fund a highway on ads alone is a financial absurdity.

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