The end of the road trip


Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Amboy (California, USA), Hist. Route 66 — 2012 — 1” / CC BY-SA 4.0.

Last week, we brought up the  idea that traditional holiday pilgrimages will stop or be severely curtailed when air travel (and travel in general) becomes more expensive.    To expand upon this – what happens when our very roads start to become difficult to use easily?

It is a trope that appears in a great many films – the road trip.   With hot air balloons, windmills on the horizon, and fantastic weather, with filmed-from-helicopter/drone footage and inspirational music.   There’s a huge list of road trip stories; most of them have been set in the 20th century, when road travel was cheap and easy.

Roads aren’t going away tomorrow, nor are automobiles.   They won’t go away this year, or the next.  But at some point, a combination of expense, weather, fuel costs, economy, and such will make the roads less of an escape, and more of a piece of infrastructure that becomes less and less reliable, and less safe.

Like cheap air travel, modern highway systems, here and abroad, have given the average person the capability to go a few hundred miles for very little.   Roads are useful things, but the expense of maintaining them is large, no matter where the funding comes from.   This is mentioned because a bit of searching turns up some different views on how subsidized public roads are by the government.  Some claim that they are subsidized heavily and others.   It isn’t quite clear to me what the situation is; take a look at, or others , here, here, here, here, and here.  It is a bit confusing, but the net result is the same – someone pays a lot of money to have functional roads.   Plus, the utilization of each road is different, so figuring out who really pays can be a bit daunting.   At some point, however, no matter who pays for them, we won’t be able to maintain them in the manner that we’ve done in the past.   The conversion of some roads in Michigan to gravel is well known, and is probably the bellwether for this sort of thinking.


  • When do you think road trips will become passe, or at least too expensive for ‘regular folks’ to do?
  • Will they be replaced by something else?   Long train trips; long sea-going voyages along the coast?   When youth want to experience freedom from home, what will they do?
  • How many roads will disappear/become unpassable due to weather/climate/sea level rise issues?
  • What will happen to the superhighway system?  How long will it be maintained?   One metric might be ‘how long will I-95 be usable, from Maine to Florida?’  Or should the metric be how long before more unused roads are abandoned, if not explicitly, then by neglect or underfunding?   Roads in parts of rural Vermont, for example, might start to deteriorate so much that they become unpassable at certain times of the year, or altogether.
  • When might we see true banditry on the roads?  Where might this start to happen first?
  • If our society becomes more security conscious, and state borders become more difficult to traverse, will this put an end to the road trip, just on psychological grounds, or will we accept it like we accept tolls on toll roads?



2 thoughts on “The end of the road trip

  1. Jeremy Holmes

    Thanks to the link to the RIDE Solutions blog – one correction, the post you link to (and several others on the site) make the argument that roads are heavily subsidized. In the article above where you link to our post you suggest we make the argument that they’re not. I wanted to make sure that was clear.

  2. peakfuture Post author

    My apologies; it is still unclear to me what the situation is; I’ve noted this above. There are lots of externalities for this sort of stuff; who has made the best analysis?


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