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Keep the motor running
More Americans, Kansans hitting the road
new deh busy roads pic web
Motorists roll down 10th Street, which is part of U.S. 56, K-156 and K-96, in Great Bend Friday afternoon. Federal, state and local roadways have seen an increase in traffic over the past few years. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

 American and Kansas highways alike are a lot busier, transportation officials say.

New data released this week by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration shows U.S. driving reached 1.58 trillion miles in the first six months of 2016, beating the previous record of 1.54 trillion miles set last year. 

The numbers take all roads – federal, state and local. For a sense of scale, 1.58 trillion miles is about 250 roundtrips from Earth to Pluto.

Closer to home, travel on the Kansas highways is even higher at 3.6 percent over where it was one year ago, the Kansas Department of Transportation announced Friday. Traveling through Kansas has been rising steadily the past few years, setting records in 2014 with 30.71 billion and 2015 with 31.38 billion miles driven. 

Looking even closer,road usage in Barton County indicates a similar trend, information from KDOT shows. The total for 2015, the most recent figure available, was 750,243, up from 739,826 in 2014.

“Fuel prices are lower than they were a year ago and the overall economy is good, both reasons that encourage travel,” said KDOT Planning Assistant Bureau Chief Alan Spicer. “Kansas has benefited being in the middle of the country and having increased national travel from both passenger and freight vehicles.”

The increase in travel over the past few years comes as the country has climbed out of a recession. 

“I believe the long-term trend is upward,” Spicer said. “Travel, both nationally and through Kansas, will continue to rise in the next few years. The population is still growing, and we have more people on our roads than ever before. Even with economic and lifestyle changes, the long-term trend is still upward.” 

The new data, published in FHWA’s latest “Traffic Volume Trends” report – a monthly estimate of U.S. road travel – show that more than 282.3 billion miles were driven in June 2016 alone which is a slight increase over the previous June. The increase in driving highlights the growing demands facing the nation’s roads and reaffirms the importance of the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation” (FAST) Act, which is investing $305 billion in America’s surface transportation infrastructure – including $226 billion for roads and bridges – until 2020.

The June 2016 federal report also includes seasonally-adjusted data, which is conducted by USDOT’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics as a way to even out seasonal variation in travel and enable vehicle miles travelled (VMT) comparisons with any other month in any year. The seasonally-adjusted vehicle miles traveled for June 2016 were 268.1 billion miles. June VMT increased by 2.9 percent compared to the previous June and by 0.5 percent compared with seasonally-adjusted May 2016 figures. The estimates include passenger vehicle, bus and truck travel.

In June, U.S. drivers increased total mileage among all five regions of the United States. At 4.1 percent, traffic in the West – a 13-state region stretching from California to Montana, and including Hawaii and Alaska – led the nation with largest percentage increase in unadjusted VMT, and continued a streak of consecutive monthly increases that began in October 2013. 

At 2.4 percent, the Northeast – a nine-state area stretching from Pennsylvania to Maine – had the smallest percentage increase in unadjusted VMT for the month.

At 8.6 percent, Hawaii led the nation with the largest unadjusted single-state traffic percent increase compared to the same month a year earlier, followed by Idaho and Utah at 5.1 percent each. At 2.4 percent, North Dakota had the nation’s only unadjusted traffic decrease for the month.

To review the VMT data in FHWA’s “Traffic Volume Trends” reports, which are based on information collected from more than 5,000 continuous count stations nationwide, visit