In recent years, there has been plenty of speculation that Americans may be turning off the ignition switch. As telecommuting has become more popular and population of urban centers as diverse as Chicago and Portland have boomed, there’s been plenty of anecdotal evidence to lend credence to those assertions
But an updated report from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) scuttles those thought. U.S. residents have driven a record number of miles in the first half of 2015. American drivers have traveled 1.54 trillion miles between January and June, topping a previous record of 1.5 trillion miles that was set in 2007, according to the feds.
The figure is more than double the number of miles driven by U.S. residents in 1981, according to the agency.
The highway administration also said according to FHWA’s Traffic Volume Trends report, the nation’s driving has now increased for 16 months in a row. The increase generally reflects the growth of economy and steady improvement in job market, which since World War II have helped boost sales of new vehicles.
Sales of new vehicles are now at their highest level in a decade and are expected to top 17 million units this year.
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“The new data, published in FHWA’s latest ‘Traffic Volume Trends’ report, indicates that 275.13 billion miles were driven last June, the most ever in June of any year and the highest VMT for the first half of any year — reaffirming calls for increased investment in transportation infrastructure as demand on the nation’s highway system grows,” the agency said in a statement.
The popularity of driving has been central to debates now raging in Congress about the amount of transportation funding that should go to public transportation projects.
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Transit advocates have argued that U.S. residents — particularly younger ones — are driving less often and choosing to live in places that offer transit access.
Highway advocates, meanwhile, have complained about road funding being diverted to public transportation projects under a provision of federal law that requires the federal government to set aside 20% of gas tax revenue for transit.
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Transit supporters have resisted efforts to change the 80-20 highway-transit funding split, which was first put in place in the Reagan administration.