Where the Money Hits the Road

Dec. 28, 2000
In the heat of the reauthorization debate, organizations opposed to the construction of new roads and added capacity have put forth arguments, which recall similar campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s that the nation was "paving over America." They have issued two major reports in the past year, which have generated considerable media coverage and the reports and news coverage are being used to influence lawmakers as well (see Environmental Group Blasts States' Road Maintenance Record, October 1997).
In the heat of the reauthorization debate, organizations opposed to the construction of new roads and added capacity have put forth arguments, which recall similar campaigns in the 1960s and 1970s that the nation was "paving over America." They have issued two major reports in the past year, which have generated considerable media coverage and the reports and news coverage are being used to influence lawmakers as well (see Environmental Group Blasts States' Road Maintenance Record, October 1997).

The reports, "Crying Wolf" and "Potholes and Politics," attempt to convince lawmakers and other opinion makers that state and local governments should be prevented from using federal highway dollars on any projects which expand road and bridge condition.

While the reports did point out the significant need for additional funding for road and bridge repairs, they cynically claimed that this deterioration was a result of states spending most of their federal money during the ISTEA years to expand urban highways. The reports based their case on a selective use of data, which only included federal highway dollars in categories that allowed highway expansion, while excluding federal bridge and rehabilitation funds and all state and local funding.

The media coverage of these reports noted the significant deterioration of our roads and bridges, but in many cases reported the inaccurate message that these substandard conditions are a result of misplaced priorities of state and local governments, which favors building new roads over repairing existing ones.

AASHTO has gone on record as saying the report was "incorrect and misleading." Less than one-fifth of total highway expenditures at all levels of government is spent on new construction and additional capacity. A spokesperson for the National Governors Association said the report is "missing the largest piece of the funding pie" by not including state and local funding data, which accounts for nearly 70 percent of the funding for all highway and transportation infrastructure.

TRIP is in the process of compiling data that will show a more accurate picture of how highway funds are spent. We also have been contacting the news media to notify them about the inaccurate picture the report gives about road and bridge funding USA Today published TRIP's response to the report in its letters-to-the-editor, which had the headline, "Highway travel increases by 84 percent while new road mileage increased by only three percent."