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Rethinking America’s Highways

A 21st-Century Vision for Better Infrastructure

Americans spend hours every day sitting in traffic. And the roads they idle on are often rough and potholed, their exits, tunnels, guardrails, and bridges in terrible disrepair. According to transportation expert Robert Poole, this congestion and deterioration are outcomes of the way America provides its highways. Our twentieth-century model overly politicizes highway investment decisions, short-changing maintenance and often investing in projects whose costs exceed their benefits.

In Rethinking America’s Highways, Poole examines how our current model of state-owned highways came about and why it is failing to satisfy its customers. He argues for a new model that treats highways themselves as public utilities—like electricity, telephones, and water supply. If highways were provided commercially, Poole argues, people would pay for highways based on how much they used, and the companies would issue revenue bonds to invest in facilities people were willing to pay for. Arguing for highway investments to be motivated by economic rather than political factors, this book makes a carefully-reasoned and well-documented case for a new approach to highways that is sure to inform future decisions and policies for U.S. infrastructure.

352 pages | 5 halftones, 2 line drawings, 14 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2018

Economics and Business: Economics--Government Finance, Economics--Urban and Regional

Political Science: Public Policy


“Every policy wonk and politician interested in infrastructure should read Bob’s book.” 

Chris Edwards | CATO Institute

“While per-gallon fuel taxes served as a proxy for our highway needs in the past, the pending insolvency of the federal Highway Trust Fund proves that model to be unsustainable. As Poole suggests, there are clear paths to self-supporting infrastructure by seeing highways as an asset class, and by creating an environment that taps into now widely available global infrastructure investment funds. Poole offers a well-reasoned transition from the failing 20th-century highway model to one that can sustain and support our country for the 21st century.”

Mary Peters, former US Secretary of Transportation

“Robert Poole’s bold, innovative thinking on infrastructure could not come at a better time. He provides a comprehensive analysis of the endemic, seemingly intractable problems facing our nation’s infrastructure, and offers a practical set of solutions. He explains not only how the tolling and private participation used around the world can improve US transportation infrastructure, but how decades-old lessons from utility regulation will ensure that those policies are in the public interest. This book is a must-read for anyone wanting a clear policy guide for moving US infrastructure into the 21st century.”

Rick Geddes, Cornell University

“In Rethinking America’s Highways, Poole furthers his reputation as one of the world’s leading experts on infrastructure and public-private partnerships. In this book, he brilliantly demonstrates how an economic model for highways, rather than our current political approach, would unlock substantial value.”

Stephen Goldsmith, Harvard University

“Are politicians ever celebrated for preventing bridges and roads from crumbling? No, they are celebrated for cutting ribbons on brand-new infrastructure projects, regardless of their economic soundness over time. This is one reason I find Robert Poole’s argument in Rethinking America’s Highways so appealing. It is vitally important that we depoliticize infrastructure by turning state transportation departments into public utilities, a seemingly modest change that would have enormously beneficial consequences.”

National Review

Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Our Troubled Highway System
Chapter 2. How the Private Sector Is Reinventing America’s Freeways
Chapter 3. Where America’s 20th-Century Highway Model Came From
Chapter 4. The Rediscovery of Toll Road Companies Overseas
Chapter 5. Toll Concessions Return to America
Chapter 6. The Benefits of Long-Term P3 Concessions
Chapter 7. Critics and Controversy: Opposition to Tolling and Long-Term Concessions
Chapter 8. Highways as Network Utilities
Chapter 9. Transforming the Interstate Highways
Chapter 10. Transforming Urban Freeways
Chapter 11. Challenges to the New Vision
Chapter 12. A New Future for US Highways


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