Population Growth and Density Will Greatly Impact the Transportation System

One key factor that will impact our nation’s transportation system, and is identified in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s recently released Beyond Traffic 2045 report, is population growth.

According to the report, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration projects vehicle travel to grow at an average annual rate ranging from 0.58 to 0.86 percent over the long-term—as fast as or slightly faster than the rate of population growth. At these rates, the traffic on our roadways would increase to between 19 and 29 percent by 2045. Since most population growth will be located in metropolitan areas, growth in vehicle travel will likely disproportionately affect fast-growing metropolitan areas.

Consider these estimates and trends related to population that are identified in the report:

  • By 2045, the number of Americans over age 65 will increase by 77 percent;
  • America’s population is expected to grow by 70 million by 2045, and by 2050, 11 emerging megaregions, which includes the Northeast Corridor, the Chicago Hub area and the West Coast, could absorb 75 percent of the U.S. population;
  • Population growth will be greatest in the South and West. In fact, 365,000 people moved to the South, up 25 percent from 2013, and moves to the West doubled;
  • Also, between 1980 and 2010, the South and West added 68 million people, accounting for 83 percent of all population growth. Going forward, existing infrastructure might not be able to accommodate future growth;
  • Between 1980 and 2010, more than 1,000 counties—nearly 40 percent of rural counties—experienced a net loss in population;
  • Going forward, even the lack of population growth will present significant challenges to those states with stagnant populations as they struggle to maintain critical transportation facilities with their tax bases declining and maintenance costs increasing;
  • Rural economies are more likely to rely on freight intensive industries, such as agriculture, mining, forestry, and manufacturing that can lead to higher infrastructure maintenance costs.