Report analyzes future of U.S. transportation and water infrastructure

The RAND Corp. research report looks into the future of funding and finance for the nation's infrastructure

October 24, 2018
RAND Corp. U.S. transportation and water infrastructure

The Rand Corp. last year published a research report entitled Not Everything is Broken: The Future of U.S. Transportation and Water Infrastructure Funding and Finance

The report identifies the policies that promote and deter investment in and maintenance of U.S. transportation and water infrastructure. It focuses on status and trends in operations and maintenance and capital spending by all levels of government; reviews current policy and practice; and recommends actions that the federal government could take to better align both policy and spending to public priorities.

RAND Corp. emphasizes that transportation and water infrastructure needs in the U.S. are diverse, as are the reasons for maintenance backlogs and delays in rebuilding and modernization. The company says massive federal spending to repair or build anew may do some good by stimulating demand for construction services, but it will not fix what is broken in the nation's approach to funding and financing public works—and not everything is broken. 

Some key findings of the report include:

  • The data does not show a decline in national spending on the physical condition of transportation and water infrastructure;
  • The federal Highway Trust Fund has not been operating on a sustainable basis for some time now, leaving communities with declining tax bases struggling to maintain their roads and bridges, and repaying their debts to bond holders;
  • State and local governments account for most expenditures on transportation and water infrastructure;
  • National and regional infrastructure needs significantly differ from decades past, when Congress first enacted many of the programs that still dominate the policy landscape; and 
  • Private investment in transportation and water infrastructure currently is less than 1% of total funding across all sources.

Some recommendations the authors make include reinstating Build America Bonds (BABs) with taxable interest for a 10-year period and experiment with other financing alternatives; targeting longer-term projects likely to produce significant national benefits; streamlining the regulatory review process among multiple federal agencies; and funding competitive grants for research, development and deployment of new technologies.

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Source: RAND Corp.

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