Transportation Economic Trends

Value of Transportation Infrastructure and Other Assets

Transportation Economic Concepts: Transportation Investment

This page highlights transportation economic concepts related to transportation investment and differences among estimates of highway investment.

Transportation Investment | Sources for Investment in Highways

What is transportation investment? Is household spending on transportation an investment?

Investment in transportation assets is spending on transportation infrastructure and equipment (transportation assets) that take more than a year to consume. Because the assets last more than 1 year, this type of investment is known as a fixed investment in transportation assets. Examples include spending on transportation infrastructure (referred to as structures in national data on investment), like highways and streets or in transportation equipment, like motor vehicles, aircraft, and ships. 
The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) estimates both public and private investment in transportation assets. The BEA estimates include spending on new transportation structures and equipment and exclude maintenance and repair of existing transportation structures and equipment. They also exclude spending on pipelines, which BEA includes in mining infrastructure investment. BEA's estimates of public and private investment in transportation structures come from the Census Bureau’s Value of Construction Put in Place survey, and private investment in transportation equipment come primarily from the U.S. Economic Census (conducted every 5 years). The Federal Highway Administration also estimates investment in highways and streets using different methodology than BEA and Census. See Sources for Investment in Highways below for more information.
BEA also estimates household purchases of new and used motor vehicles, motorcycles, and other sports and recreational vehicles, such as bicycles, all of which are transportation assets because they last more than 1 year. However, spending by households on vehicles (automobiles, light trucks, motorcycles, and other recreational vehicles, such as bicycles) and motor vehicle parts and accessories, such as tires, are considered consumption, rather than investment in BEA's data. Household spending on motor vehicle fuel and public transportation are not an investment because households use the goods upon purchase.  

Transportation Investment | Sources for Investment in Highways

Why are there different estimates of investment in highways and what are the differences?

Both the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) publish estimates of capital outlays on highways and streets. 

Bureau of Economic Analysis Data on Investment in Highways

  • Data come from the Census Bureau’s Value of Construction Put in Place (VIP) survey, which covers construction costs for new structures and improvements that extend the life or add value to existing structures in the private and public sectors. 
    • VIP data are in terms of fiscal year. BEA converts the data to calendar year.
  • Do not include the value of land. BEA captures total purchases of land separately as net purchases of nonproduced assets.
  • Released in BEA's fixed asset tables labeled as "fixed investment in structures".

Federal Highways Administration Data on Investment in Highways

  • Data come from states.
    • Some data reported for fiscal year whereas some data reported by calendar year. No adjustment made to resolve differences in reporting year.
  • Include the value of land, whereas the BEA estimates exclude it.
  •  Includes “all expenditures for construction, relocation, resurfacing, restoration, rehabilitation and reconstruction …, widening, safety and capacity improvements, restoration of failed components, additions and betterments of roads and bridges.” BEA estimates do not include maintenance; only improvements that substantially extend the life or add value.
  • Released in FHWA's Highway Statistics.

Recommended citation
U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Transportation Economic Trends (Washington, DC: 2020).

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is the preeminent source of statistics on commercial aviation, multimodal freight activity, and transportation economics, and provides context to decision makers and the public for understanding statistics on transportation.
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