As Congress and the Obama administration wrestle over how to fund work on the nation’s roadways for the next several years, two groups have teamed up, issuing a report saying more focus needs to be put on road repairs rather than building new roads.
The budget watchdog group, Taxpayers for Common Sense, along with the lobby group, Smart Growth America, says between 2009 and 2011, the latest year with available data, states spent $20.4 billion annually to build new roadways and add lanes to existing roads. This grew America’s state-owned road network by 8,822 lane-miles, accounting for less than 1% of the total lane miles in 2011.
They claim, however, during that same time, states spent just $16.5 billion annually repairing and preserving the other 99% of the roadway system, even while roads across the country were deteriorating, with just 37% rated in good condition in 2011, down from 41% in 2008.
“If states spent $20.4 billion annually on repair rather than expansion, they could have cut the number of roads in poor condition in half by 2011 and been on target to eliminate the backlog of roads in poor condition by 2014,” say the two groups.
They note highway spending decisions come with serious implications for DOT finances and taxpayers. In 2008, states would have needed to spend more than $43 billion every year for 20 years to bring roads in poor condition into good repair while also maintaining their existing systems. By 2011, that figure increased to $45.2 billion per year, nearly three times the amount states currently spend on repair.
The groups say they hope the report will help lawmakers and state transportation departments focus on repair investments on the most heavily used roads and they will use cost-benefit analysis to prioritize road investments, among other strategies, when it comes to road funding.
The current federal highway funding authorization expires at the end of September but there is an even earlier concern the Federal Highway Trust fund, which pays for such projects, will become insolvent sooner. This is forcing both the administration and lawmakers to address both issues, while agreement on a single plan is still miles away from happening.