By Christopher Hopkins
It has now been eight months since the expiration of the Federal Highway Trust Fund. While there have been short-term extensions put in place to maintain some of the road funding to the states, it has not been sufficient to keep up with our deteriorating infrastructure.
The Federal Highway Trust Fund was started in 1956 in order to maintain America’s roads and bridges. Through this act, the federal gas tax is earmarked for the maintenance of roads and bridges across the country. The federal gas tax is an incredibly fair user fee: the more you drive, the more wear you cause on the roads; so, the more gas you use, the more you pay to repair roads and bridges. Americans drive approximately 3 trillion miles per year, but if you do not drive or own a car, you do not pay a cent towards the trust fund.
State and local governments are in dire straits, not knowing if and at what level, federal highway funds will be forthcoming.
In the private sector, construction and aggregate companies are unable to make long range capital plans and in turn are not able to participate more in the economy by adding jobs and capital outlays. And the delays are costing jobs; the U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that for every $1 billion of federal spending on highway construction, 28,000 jobs are created, this in a construction industry that is experiencing an estimated 21.8% unemployment rate.
There is a serious need for these road repairs. In 2007. the National Bridge Inventory listed 12% or 74,000 of bridges in America were “structurally deficient”. In 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the overall infrastructure in the country a grade of “D”.
Some highlights from the society’s report card:
- Bridges got a “C,” with one in four rated structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
- Levees, most of them older than their designed lifespan and privately owned, got a “D-minus,” with repair costs put at $100 billion.
- Dams got a “D,” with 4,000 dams deemed deficient and half of those considered to have “high hazard potential.”
- The nation’s roads got a “D-minus,” down from “D.” Americans spend 4.2 billion hours stuck in traffic a year at a cost of $78.2 billion, or $710 for each motorist, the report said.
The government needs to pass the Federal Highway Trust Fund renewal; it is a program that has bi-partisan support in Congress, but the partisan politics of Washington, D. C., will not let it be taken up during an election year. Rather it is placed into the general fund where it is raided for pet projects that have nothing to do with infrastructure.
Meanwhile, bridges and roads further deteriorate, people remain unemployed who should not have to, Congress goes on recess and the bickering continues.
Christopher Hopkins is senior vice president for aggregates and mining for The Saint Consulting Group, email firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 615-656-3794