The result? A crumbling infrastructure, with 45% of the nation’s roads – 80% in metropolitan areas – in “less-than-good” condition and 71,000 bridges deemed “structurally insufficient.”
The result for American motorists? An average of $335 extra in repairs due to highways and bridges in disrepair – that’s $67 billion per year.
Wednesday, the U.S. Public Interest Research Group released a new report, Road Work Ahead - Holding Government Accountable for Fixing America’s Crumbling Roads and Bridges, which strongly criticizes federal and state policies and calls for profound policy shifts with strong “fix-it first” rules that give priority to maintenance of our existing roads and bridges, set national goals for the condition of our transportation system, and that hold state governments accountable for achieving results.
“This report calls into question our nation’s transportation priorities,” said Phineas Baxandall, senior analyst for Tax & Budget Policy and one of the report’s authors. “Right now, we are wasting scarce resources and spending billions on new lanes and superhighways instead of preserving existing roadways that need repair. It’s like adding a guest room on your home when the roof is leaking.”
Road Work Ahead describes how and why America’s roads and bridges are in disrepair, bringing together a wide variety of statistics and sources with state-by-state analysis. It shows how special-interest pressure tilts the playing field toward the construction of new and ever-wider highways at the expense of repair and maintenance.
For example, Road Work Ahead points out that vast amounts of money is pushed out to the states through federal programs with little direction or accountability, and that Congressional earmarks further tilt spending away from maintenance.
State transportation funding policies are often similarly short-sighted, the report notes. States generally award major new construction contracts to outside contractors, many of whom lobby for such projects. Routine maintenance and repairs, by contrast, tend to be performed by in-house staff who lack outside influence.
Politicians can be susceptible to these pressures because they garner positive political attention from ribbon cuttings for new projects, and mainly hear complaints about closing roads for repair and maintenance, according to the report.
“While some transportation officials still call for prioritizing new highways, that is a decades-old approach that hasn’t woken up to the reality of limited resources and an immense backlog of repair and maintenance on our existing roads and bridges,” Baxandall pointed out.