Funds to build and maintain roads and bridges continue to suffer cutbacks as state governments struggle to balance their budgets and meet a variety of other needs.
According to a National Association of Governors (NAG) survey, of those governors who described the economic conditions and budget outlook in their state, 89% said that their state’s economic picture was improving compared to 2003. But 79% said that budget conditions are still very tight and would require difficult spending choices.
Governors singled out increased health care costs as a key factor that must be addressed – and that is having an impact on road funding.
For example, according to the Build Indiana Council (BIC), a coalition of over 500 companies representing the transportation construction industry, Indiana is facing a drastic drop in state construction dollars for the immediate future.
After a construction program of over $770 million dollars in 2004, it will drop nearly $300 million by 2006 and remain around $500 million for subsequent programs. The Indiana Department of Transportation's (INDOT) Long Range Plan, however, calls for needed investment levels of $1 billion by 2007 and $1.4 billion by 2011 to meet their planned construction programs. In addition, BIC said local roads and bridges across the state face dire problems without the funding to address them. There are nearly 3,700 local bridges that are structurally deficient or obsolete, and close to 90% of county pavements are considered rough by industry standards. Local governments need an additional $200 million annually over the next decade simply to address these problems, the group noted.
According to Thad Nodine, president of Nodine Consulting, in 2001, the United States maintained 3.95 million miles of highways, most of which were under the control of local governments. He added that costs have jumped significantly for contractors in the highway business, as according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost to build or repair a highway has risen 24.5% since 1992, easily outpacing price increases for all new construction (19.4%) and producer prices for all products built or manufactured in the U.S. (14.2% increase)
Nodine also noted that most highway industry representatives, state Departments of Transportation, and the Federal Highway Administration agree that the federal government needs to spend between $55 billion and $60 billion per year simply to maintain U.S. road and bridge infrastructure. Recently, however, highway spending has been less reliable as state and local budgets have been hurt by the recession and, at the federal level there has been much “delay and uncertainty,” according to banking firm BB&T.
Those funding issues are being reflected by the worsening condition of U.S. roads, said The Road Information Program (TRIP), a Washington, D.C.-based national nonprofit transportation research group.
According to TRIP’s research, one out of four of the nation’s major metropolitan roads – interstates, freeways and other critical local routes – have pavements in poor condition, resulting in rough rides and costing the average urban motorist $400 annually in additional vehicle operating costs.
At the same time, overall travel on urban roads increased by 35% from 1990 to 2002, with large commercial truck traffic growing at 51% over the same time period. TRIP warned that overall vehicle travel is expected to increase by approximately 42% and heavy truck traffic by 49% by the year 2020, requiring more road construction funds to handle that extra volume.
“We know how to build and repair roads to last longer, but it requires a greater investment up front,” said William Wilkins, TRIP's executive director. “Given the fact that urban travel continues to increase, we must act now to build better roads to accommodate such an increase in travel.”