All That's Trucking

Is Our Infrastructure Crumbling, or Not?

Highway funding debate muddied by claims of improving infrastructure

April 3, 2013

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Critics of the push to revamp highway funding say events such as the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2007 are isolated incidents that don't take into account data showing improvements in the nation's infrastructure. If you really call a D+ an improvement.
Critics of the push to revamp highway funding say events such as the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2007 are isolated incidents that don't take into account data showing improvements in the nation's infrastructure. If you really call a D+ an improvement.

In the debate over how to increase highway funding, the call is often made to raise fuel taxes or develop other funding mechanisms to fix our crumbling highways and bridges, a problem brought tragically to the forefront by the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis in August 2007 that killed 13 people.

Now, clouding the debate in Washington is the claim that our infrastructure really isn't crumbling after all.

As Adam Snider writes in today's article in Politico.com:

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"By some measures, the nation’s bridges and roads have improved in recent years, despite a still-teeming backlog of cracked asphalt, aging steel trusses and decades-old structures that don’t meet modern safety standards.

"Members of Congress are divided on whether we even face a major problem — at the same time that President Barack Obama is traveling the country to push more than $60 billion worth of initiatives to address the infrastructure crisis."

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who spent 10 years as the top GOP voice on the Environment and Public Works Committee, tells Politico that yes, it is crumbling, citing the death of an Oklahoma woman who was killed when a piece of the bridge she was walking under fell on her.

However, some critics say the threat is being overblown.

“You will always be able to find crumbling infrastructure even if you add $100 billion a year,” said Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who left the Transportation Committee this year to join the GOP leadership team, in the Politico.com article. “You will still find some roads and some bridges because that’s the nature of the asset.”

Critics of the crumbling infrastructure story point to some facts that show improvement, Snider writes:

  • The country’s infrastructure recently got a D+ grade from a national association of civil engineers, the highest mark it has ever gotten from the group.
  • Government data show that 12% of U.S. bridges were rated “structurally deficient” in 2009, down from 14.2% just eight years earlier.
  • Major U.S. roads have also gotten better. Only 48% of the country’s interstate highways and other major routes were in “good” condition in 2000, a figure that climbed to 57% by 2008.

Seriously? You get a D+ and say we don't have a problem? Sorry, but if that were the case with my daughter and her school, I don't think I'd just sit back and say, "See, the problem's improving, we don't need to make more efforts to fix it."

There's also the question of congestion. Just this week, we told you about a new report that says gridlock is back. For instance, gridlock in Chicago increased over 20% in February from a year ago.

And last month, we reported that congestion in 2011 cost the country $121 billion, up $1 billion from the year before. Of that total, about $27 billion worth was wasted time and diesel fuel from trucks moving goods on the system.

C'mon, Capitol Hill. Don't let minor improvements blind you to the problems we face in paying for improving the nation's highway system.

Related recent HDT Editorials:

The Hard Road to Highway Funding, March 2013

A Trio of Trucking Resolutions, January 2013

Comments

  1. 1. Joe [ April 04, 2013 @ 09:28AM ]

    The total lack of political courage by legislators in Washington D.C to “deal” with the crisis developing with the HTF is astounding. Too many have mindlessly bowed to Grover Norquist and his anti-taxes pledge. That political philosophy is fine when dealing with the overall federal budget, but not when it concerns funding highways with a real user pay system – the federal fuel and gasoline tax which has not been adjusted in over two decades.

    A recent study from the Reason Foundation titled “Are Highways Crumbling? State and U.S. Highway Performance Trends, 1989-2008” (see: http://reason.org/files/us_highway_performance_20_year_trends_full_study.pdf) states in its summary, “…while individual system elements (road sections, bridges, pavements) are continuously deteriorating over time, the overall condition of the state-owned highway system appears to be improving, and has possibly never been in better shape. In short, the U.S. highway infrastructure is not “crumbling.”

    That report is “red meat” for those who want to dawdle and “do nothing” in addressing what truckers know is an all too real problem – our antiquated and crumbling highway system. The conclusive statement in the Reason report based simply on looking at numbers is proof of the remark attributed to Disraeli, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

  2. 2. Turnbuckle [ April 04, 2013 @ 08:24PM ]

    I don't have the numbers, but I am confident that if we spent the fuel tax that is currently collected on building and maintaining roads instead of hiring "truck enforcement" people that don't know the difference between an air bag and an air brake can we could all drive on baby butt smooth self defrosting highways with money left over

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Author Bio

Deborah Lockridge

Editor in Chief

Truck journalist 21 years, joined us in 1998. Plans and coordinates editorial, specializes in maintenance, drivers and fleet operations.

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