A Balanced Approach to Preservation and Expansion Investment
The most recent federal report that documents national highway and bridge capital investment
needs is U.S. DOT’s 2008 Conditions and Performance Report. It recommended that to meet the future
needs for condition and performance over the next 20 years, 48.7 percent of capital investment should
go into system rehabilitation and 41 percent should go to system expansion. They recommended
that 10.4 percent go to enhancements, which included safety, traffic operations, and environmental
mitigation and enhancement.
The report recommended a balanced approach to investment, with significant emphasis on rehabilitation
and expansion of the system. Recognizing future metropolitan mobility needs, the report
recommended that 50 percent of funding be invested in expanding urban arterials and collectors.
Addressing the Current Highway and Bridge Backlog
Two recent studies have addressed the backlog in highway and bridge investment needs. According
to the U.S. DOT’s 2008 Condition and Performance Report, published in early 2010,years of underinvestment
have resulted in a $523.5 billion backlog of highway improvements and a $99 billion
backlog of bridge improvements that are needed to maintain the current condition and operational
performance of the highway system.
AASHTO’s 2009 Bottom Line Report for Highways and Transit found that to bring the nation’s highways
and bridges up to a good state of repair would cost $490 billion. As of 2008, 46 percent of the
backlog was created by current capacity deficiencies.
Highway and Bridge Improvement Backlog (in billions of $)
The analysis by U.S. DOT and AASHTO addressed the levels of investment needed to bring both the
condition and the performance of the system to an acceptable level. These dual goals are critical to
keeping America moving. If most or all of our capital investments were made in system rehabilitation
and little to none in adding needed capacity, the condition of the nation’s roads and bridges would
improve, but traffic would grind to a halt.
One of the policy positions being considered by the Congress is that no federal investment could be
used to add highway capacity until the entire national highway system is brought up to a good state
of repair. One advocacy group, has recommended that, “Congress should firewall these funds so they
cannot be flexed into other spending areas without certification that existing infrastructure is in a
state of good repair.”
If the funds made available to the states, cities and counties for system rehabilitation were unlimited,
or at least sufficient to bring the system to a good state of repair in one authorization cycle, that concept
might make sense in states not expecting population or economic growth. But with many states,
especially in the South and West expecting substantial growth and funding expected to fall short of
what is needed, this proposal is nothing short of a prescription for certain “gridlock.”
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