Highway Stats Aren’t Sexy, But They’re Powerful

By: Charles Bowen

Not every site on the Web has sizzle. But that’s OK.

When you’re a frazzled reporter looking for facts in a hurry, boring can be beautiful, so long as the site has the goods on what you’re researching.

A case in point: I can’t think of a way you could jazz up highway statistics. Data on road taxes, fuel, licensing agencies, and road repairs just isn’t meant to dance. But when you’re on a deadline and looking for that kind of information, you’d probably rather not see some Webmaster showing off his HTML magic. Just the facts, ma’am.

In that spirit, meet the Highway Statistics Series, an electronic venue operated by the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Highway Policy Information. It’s not particularly pretty, but it’s powerful. Built around the 56th edition of an annual series of printed reports, the site brings together a collection of selected statistical tabulations relating to highway transportation. Three major areas of highway data are covered:

1. Car usage, including ownership and operation of motor vehicles.

2. Finance, such as the receipts and expenditures of highways by public agencies.

3. Highway structure, covering the extent, characteristics and performance of public highways, roads, and streets throughout the nation.

Besides that, the site also reveals the year 2000 analyzed statistics of general interest on motor fuel, vehicles, driver licensing, highway-user taxation, state highway finance, highway mileage, and federal aid for highways. The documents can be viewed in HTML, PDF, or Excel format.

To use the information, visit the site at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ohim/ohimstat.htm, where a lengthy introductory page provides an overview of the statistics available here for free. For the latest, click the link at the top of the page to “Highway Statistics 2000.” A subsequent page lists hyperlinks to the diverse divisions of the report, from the preface and introduction to sections on motor fuel, driver licensing, finances, and the like.

Of particular interest to reporters will be the link at the bottom of the list to “Selected Measures for Peer State.” This hooks you up with characters that give state-by-state data on such things as annual vehicle-miles of travel in both urban and rural areas and facts on state-owned highway systems in assorted states. Also of interest is the site’s extensive collection of international comparisons on road system measures, vehicle travel, and fuel costs.

The site also has links to the electronic versions of its earlier highways statistics reports back to 1997. To reach any of them, just click an icon on one of the covers displayed on the main screen.

Other considerations for using the Federal Highway Administration site in your writing and editing:

1. Other historical motor-vehicle registration data also is available on the site, notably the Summary to Highway Statistics done by the Office of Highway Policy Information, published every 10 years. The Highway Statistics Summary to 1995 (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/ohim/summary95/index.html) is the most current report. In some instances, corrections or revisions have been made in previously published data; consequently the figures shown in Highway Statistics Summary to 1995 supersede those in previous Highway Statistics Summaries, as well as previous annual issues of the Highway Statistics Series.

2. Virtually all travel data supplied to FHWA are collected by individual state highway agencies, which are the best resources for information such as current traffic counts on local routes. From the site you can link to a page of these state agencies (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/webstate.htm).

3. For additional background on the data and for highlights of key statistics, click on the site’s “Frequently Asked Questions” link on the left side of the main screen.

To see Bowen’s last 10 columns, click here. Previous columns may be purchased in our paid archives. Search for “Bowen” in the “Author” field.

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