Where the Money Hits the Road

Article December 28, 2000
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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

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."

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