One-third of all highway deaths are blamed on poor road conditions, and America’s crumbling transportation infrastructure costs the public billions of dollars every year.
Any doubt about the potentially horrific consequences of ignoring the problem was proven folly by last year’s catastrophic highway bridge collapse that killed 10 people and injured more than 100 in Minnesota.
Yet while lawmakers consider multi-billion-dollar bailouts requested by the auto industry and banks, Congress this week is expected to reject a $13 billion appropriation for infrastructure repairs.
It makes no sense, writes Chris Hopkins, Saint Consulting’s senior vice president for aggregates and mining, and he looks at the serious need for infrastructure repairs, including highways, bridges, gateway and transportation ports.
Of the roughly 600,000 road bridges in the United States, 152,000 are “functionally obsolete” or “structurally deficient,” according to the federal government. Thirty-three percent of the 46,837 miles of federal highway is in “poor or mediocre” condition.
The results are increased delays in daily commutes and hazardous conditions for drivers.
The serious need for infrastructure repairs is not limited to highways and bridges. A recent Urban Land Institute report identified strategic gateway ports such as New York and Los Angeles in need of repair and overwhelmed by demand. Flight delays alone cost Americans $41 billion, according to a 2007 study.
A Texas Transportation Institute report in 2003 said congestion on the highways cost 5.7 billion gallons of fuel and 3.5 billion hours of additional travel time. The estimated dollar cost in 2003 was $70 billion, with an annual increase projected at $4.5 billion. Anyone who commutes in a major metropolitan area can attest to the increased delays.
The cost for inferior highways is frightening. The Road Information Project, a national transportation research group based in Washington, D.C., attributes one-third of all highway deaths to poor road conditions. And TRIP says deteriorating urban roads cost the average driver $413 a year in auto repairs.
An infusion of infrastructure stimulus funding would be a win-win by creating both jobs and addressing a serious public need. The benefits are clear.
Instead, the government appears to be more interested in using taxpayer money to bail out poorly operated private enterprises.
Maintaining roads, bridges and investing in infrastructure is an important part of what government is supposed to do. This is one of its elementary and primary functions, though one it has badly neglected.
The Highway Trust Fund, created under President Dwight Eisenhower, is projected to become insolvent sometime in 2009. It could be sooner, given the recent drop in driving, since the fund relies on the federal gas tax for funding.
An infusion of infrastructure dollars can dramatically stimulate the economy. For every billion dollars invested in infrastructure, there are between 35,000 and 45,000 jobs created annually (the figures differ depending on the study, but that is the range).
The $13 billion on the verge of being rejected by Congress at this very moment would create 624,000 jobs in the construction, paving, ready mix and aggregate industries. For that investment, the results would be seen in our daily commute time, the conditions of our roads, reduction of fatal accidents and shorter unemployment lines.
Or would you rather hand that $13 billion over to bankers and the ‘Big Three’ automakers?