Highways and Bridges

The big picture regarding transportation infrastructure funding typically centers around the rapidly declining revenues that are tied to the primary funding source for roads—the motor fuels tax. But the real picture is even bigger than that for state governments.

America’s deteriorating infrastructure has been an ongoing concern for many years. The May 2013 collapse of a bridge in Washington was the latest event to peak the interests of the public and policymakers about the state, safety and financing of bridges and roads in the U.S.

A coalition of rural conservative and urban liberal Senators was credited with making possible this week’s 45 to 5 vote in favor of a $2.5 billion transportation bill in Pennsylvania that supporters say would protect the safety of motorists and provide a much needed economic boost in the Keystone State. I also have some bonus updates for the week on some of the topics covered in my previous post from earlier this week including public-private partnerships and the condition of the nation’s bridges.

A handful of states are still weighing transportation revenue options to meet infrastructure needs as the collapse of a bridge in Washington State continues to have reverberations around the country. I also have some updates on states pursuing public-private partnerships and expanded tolling and one more plug for an important conference on the subject that takes place later this month in New York City.

Here’s what should scare anyone concerned about the state of the nation’s infrastructure after last week’s collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River north of Seattle: that wasn’t even one of the bridges in particularly bad shape and it wasn’t in one of the states particularly known for bridges in bad shape. And while that incident—and the subsequent collapse of a highway overpass in Missouri—has once again kick-started the calls for additional funding to shore up crumbling infrastructure, analysts believe they are unlikely to have much impact in prompting policy makers to take action.

The American Society of Civil Engineers says America’s infrastructure is improving, but just barely; it moved from a D to a D-plus. “The backlog of projects to maintain and modernize our infrastructure continues to grow,” said Brian Pallasch, the engineering society’s managing director for government relations and infrastructure initiatives. He was one of the featured speakers on a recent CSG webinar, “Report Card for America’s Infrastructure.”

Transportation plans in Maryland, Ohio and Virginia are one step closer to becoming a reality this week. For other states though, the debate over how to fund transportation going forward continues. I also have some noteworthy items below on the condition of America’s infrastructure and what states are doing about it.

Efforts by states and communities to move forward with infrastructure investment were among the reasons some areas of transportation saw improvement in recent years, according to a new report from the American Society of Civil Engineers that provides a treasure trove of information for state officials about exactly what the nation faces.

CSG's Senior Transportation Analyst Sean Slone outlines the top five issues for 2013, including implementation of the new transportation authorization bill, future transportation financing options, America's infrastructure needs, and preparing for an expanded Panama Canal. 

With the days of 2012 dwindling to a precious few, it’s time to look ahead to 2013 and what could be on the horizon for states seeking funding solutions to their infrastructure needs. Could 2013 be the year states move to increase their gas taxes or fees or enact other revenue raising measures? A number appear poised to do so. But, it should be said, that appeared to be the case at the beginning of this year too (see my not very prescient January blog posts here and here). Nevertheless, there is certainly a lot of transportation talk in state capitals in advance of 2013 legislative sessions. So, with no risk of damaging my already abysmal record of prognostication, here’s my list of states it might be worth keeping an eye on next year.