to the National Atlas Home page
About | Fact Sheets | Contact Us | Partners | Products | Site Map | FAQ | Help | Follow us on Twitter 
to the Interactive Map MakerMap LayersPrintable MapsWall MapsDynamic MapsArticlesMapping Professionals
  1870's Highwheeler bicycleTransportation      

Scope of the American Transportation System
America's transportation network is an important tie binding our economy together. Our strong and efficient transportation system provides businesses with access to materials and markets, and provides people with access to goods, services, recreation, jobs, and other people. Transportation touches each one of us every day in all aspects of our lives. One in eight jobs throughout the economy is directly linked to transportation. Each day, about 440,000 public school buses transport 24 million children to and from school and school-related activities.

School Buses

Transportation contributes 11 percent of the Nation's gross domestic product, amounting to approximately $950 billion. Transportation accounts for 19 percent of spending by the average household in America - as much as for food and health care combined - and is second only to spending on housing.

The U.S. transportation system carries over 4.7 trillion passenger miles of travel and 3.7 trillion ton miles of domestic freight generated by about 270 million people, 6.7 million business establishments, and 88,000 units of government. Rail and maritime transportation each account for over 11 percent of the tonnage carried.

Transportation's Importance to the Gross Domestic Product -- 10.8% in 2000

The system comprises of 3.9 million miles of public roads and 2 million miles of oil and natural gas pipelines. There are networks consisting of 120,000 miles of major railroads, over 25,000 miles of commercially navigable waterways, and over 5,000 public-use airports. This vast system also includes over 500 major urban public transit operators and more than 300 ports on the coasts, Great Lakes, and inland waterways.Tow barge

In 1999, the system carried 2.7 trillion miles of travel by cars and trucks, more than 9 billion trips on public transit, more than 640 million passenger boardings on airplanes, 21 million trips on Amtrak, and nearly 700 million rail freight train miles.

Transportation is a strategic investment that is essential to strengthening America for the fresh challenges and limitless opportunities of the 21st century. America will need an integrated transportation system in the future that moves people, goods, information, and services safely and efficiently.

American Modes of Travel
The U.S. transportation system includes the various modes of travel: highways, transit, rail, air, and water. Following are brief descriptions of each.

Highway System
The United States highway network consists of 4 million miles of roads and streets. Traffic congestionHighway bridges also make up a critical link in the Nation's infrastructure. At present,there are about 600,000 bridges on the entire highway network. State and local governments control most roads and bridges in the United States, but all highways serve as part of an integrated national network.

The Interstate Highway System accounts for only 1 percent of all highway mileage but carries 25 percent of the total vehicle miles of travel. With the completion of the Interstate System in the 1980s, the focus shifted toward maintaining and improving the system, improving traffic flow, and upgrading connections with other modes of transportation.

Transit (Public Transportation)
The U.S. transit system includes a variety of multiple-occupancy vehicle services designed to transport Transit Mapcustomers on local and regional routes. These services are operated by more than 5,000 public transportation systems throughout the United States and include rail, road, and water modes. Currently, the public transportation fleet comprises 129,000 vehicles in active service, of which 58 percent are buses, 26 percent are demand-responsive vehicles, 8 percent are heavy rail cars, 4 percent are commuter rail cars, 1 percent are light rail cars, and 3 percent are all other transportation modes. In 1998, Americans made 8.7 billion passenger trips on public transportation, with 61 percent of the trips on buses, 27 percent on heavy rail, and 8 percent on commuter and light rail.

Passenger Railroads
Train wheel on a trackThe advent of relatively inexpensive air travel in long-distance markets and the widespread availability of the private automobile for shorter trips generated new travel patterns and drew passengers away from railroad travel. Following nearly a century and a half of intercity passenger operations by private freight railroads, the Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970 established The National Railroad Passenger Corporation (popularly known as Amtrak). Since its founding, Amtrak rebuilt rail equipment and benefited from significant public investment in track and stations, particularly in the Northeast Corridor.

AirplaneAir travel is the fastest growing mode of transportation, becoming ever more popular and frequent. The growing pervasiveness of air travel can be seen by the increasing numbers of people who have flown on a commercial jet: less than 50 percent in 1975 compared with more than 80 percent today.

Maritime Shipping
Maritime shipping has generally been intermodal; other forms of transportation are needed to haul cargo to and from ports. The U.S. maritime transportation system consists of waterways, ports and their connections to other transportation modes, vessels, vehicles, and system users.


Map Maker
Parkways and Scenic Rivers
Map Layers
Parkways and Scenic Rivers
Printable Maps
Reference and Outline Maps of the United States
Wall Maps
General Reference Maps
Amtrak Facts
Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956
Overview of U.S. Freight Railroads
  Yield sign