New Brief Examines Condition of U.S. Roads and Bridges, Need for Infrastructure Investment

Despite billions in Recovery Act dollars spent on infrastructure over the last year and half, the nation still faces an epidemic of crumbling roads and bridges in the years ahead and a shortage of dollars to pay for it all under current funding conditions. That’s the picture that emerges from CSG’s new four-page Capitol Facts & Figures brief entitled “Condition of U.S. Roads & Bridges.”

The brief includes a few points on the economic impact of the condition of our infrastructure, an extended list of states facing severe gaps in trying to meet their infrastructure needs, a handful of state success stories and a look at two states in danger of backsliding if infrastructure spending is not maintained.

At the core of the brief is an analysis of a series of reports produced mostly over the last 18 months by the national transportation research group TRIP (The Road information Program). To get a more detailed picture of where things stand in a particular state or in the nation as a whole, I would recommend perusing those reports on the TRIP website. In addition to assessing the overall condition of roads and bridges, many of the reports also examine:

  • The role of the federal surface transportation program as a funding source in each state profiled.
  • The kinds of projects each state will be unable to complete without substantial federal funding. These include projects to improve the condition and expand the capacity of roads, highways and public transit, to improve mobility and to enhance economic development opportunities.
  • The growing demands on the state’s major roads and bridges as a result of population increases and economic growth.
  • Rising traffic congestion levels and travel delays in urban areas.
  • Fatality rates and the need for improved safety features on roads.
  • The importance of a state’s transportation system efficiency to the health of its economy.

Both the brief and the TRIP reports point to the need for Congress to finally tackle a successor to SAFETEA-LU, the authorization of federal transportation programs that expired nearly a year ago. Implicit in that is a need for additional federal investment in infrastructure improvements and a paradigm shift in how roads and bridges are funded. But that is easier said than done in a difficult economy with a ballooning deficit and a challenging political environment. The problem is although many of the funding options may be politically unpalatable, the longer we wait, the more costly the repairs may be in the long run. Which brings me to the final and perhaps most important point made in the brief: time is of the essence.

The Wall Street Journal reports today that a new nationwide infrastructure program is among a range of measures the Obama administration is considering as part of efforts to stimulate the economy. But whether it comes in the form of an authorization bill or a new stimulus, infrastructure spending can’t come soon enough for many states, as both our CSG brief and the TRIP reports point out.    

Additional reading: Funding Highways and Bridges

Increasing Public Awareness of Infrastructure Costs and Finance