Your current web browser is outdated. For best viewing experience, please consider upgrading to the latest version.

Donation - Other Level

Please use the quantity box to donate any amount you wish. Sign Up to Donate


Send a question or comment using the form below. This message may be routed through support staff.

Email Article

Password Reset Request


Add a topic or expert to your feed.


Follow Experts & Topics

Stay on top of our work by selecting topics and experts of interest.

On The Ground
Main Error Mesage Here
More detailed message would go here to provide context for the user and how to proceed
Main Error Mesage Here
More detailed message would go here to provide context for the user and how to proceed

Manhattan Institute

Close Nav
Share this report on Close

Driverless Cars and the Future of American Infrastructure


Driverless Cars and the Future of American Infrastructure

January 31, 2017
Urban PolicyInfrastructure & Transportation

Executive Summary

Improving the country’s infrastructure will likely be high on the agenda of the incoming administration and Congress. To accomplish this goal, federal spending should strongly favor repairing and maintaining existing roads, highways and bridges, not building new ones. That’s because as much as 20% of the nation’s major roads are in poor condition, and tens of thousands of the country’s bridges are structurally deficient. Fixing them will yield the best return for the taxpayer dollar.

Key Findings

  1. Spending on new or expanded highways is already showing lower economic returns than maintenance. In the past, traffic engineers could use projections of population and job growth to extrapolate the need for new or expanded highways. But two developments may render such projections increasingly unreliable.
  2. The first development is self-driving cars. Companies like Google and Uber are already testing autonomous vehicles on public streets in cities such as Pittsburgh. The timing and spread of this technology is uncertain, but many researchers and experts expect the shift to autonomous vehicles to have dramatic and unpredictable effects on, for example, traffic congestion.
  3. The second development is the possibility that the U.S. may reach what some analysts refer to as “peak car.” The long-term trend in traffic growth, on both a total and per-capita level, underwent an unprecedented reversal in 2007, with several years of actual decline. This included nine straight years of declining per-capita travel. Vehicle miles traveled (VMT), total and per capita, has begun to grow again, but some researchers believe that the U.S. may be at or near the end of the era of per-capita traffic growth.

Both these developments make it increasingly uncertain as to how much new road and highway capacity the U.S. will need in the future—or even what kind of roads the country will need. Policymakers need to keep this uncertainty front and center.



Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor at City Journal. Follow him on Twitter here.