Report: States misusing road funds

Report: States misusing road funds

According to a new report issued by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, most states are spending too much money on new road construction and road expansion and not enough on preserving the condition of the current infrastructure

According to a new report issued by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, most states are spending too much money on new road construction and road expansion and not enough on preserving the condition of the current infrastructure. The report, Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads, states that the application of funds is leading to greater costs long-term while our roadways continue to deteriorate.

“Federal taxpayers have an enormous stake in seeing that our roads are kept in good condition,” said Erich W. Zimmermann, of Taxpayers for Common Sense, in a news release. “Billions of precious tax dollars were spent to build our highway system, and neglecting repair squanders that investment. Keeping our roads in good condition reduces taxpayers’ future liabilities.”

The report claims that between 2004 and 2008, states spent 57% of available funds on new road construction, while the remainder was “dedicated to preserving the 99% of the system that already existed.”

According to the report, the American Assn. of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) estimates that every $1 spent on road repair results in between $6 and $14 to rebuild that road once it has deteriorated. Further, the report adds that the American Society of Civil Engineers downgraded the quality of America’s roads to a D- in 2009, down from a D in 2008.

“Spending too little on repair and allowing roads to fall apart exposes states and the federal government to huge financial liabilities,” said Roger Millar of Smart Growth America. “Our findings show that ito bring their roads into good condition and maintain them that way, states would collectively have to spend $43 billion every year for the next 20 years – more than they currently spend on all repair, preservation and new capacity combined.

“As this figure illustrates,” he added, “states have drifted too far from regular preservation and repair and in so doing have created a deficit that is going to take decades to reverse.”

During the years studied, the report said that 23,300 lane-miles were added to the nation’s infrastructure, which includes 1.9-million lane-miles of road overall.

“Many states have chosen to defer road repair and preservation, resulting in deteriorating network conditions,” the report noted. “The scope of this problem goes beyond a few potholes or cracks. Based on data provided to FHWA by the states, an estimated 52% of the country’s major roads (732,500 lane-miles) were in “fair” or “poor” condition as of 2008… These poor road conditions are a large and growing financial liability for states and FHWA data illustrates how overwhelming this burden has become.”

Some states have it right, the report said, pointing out that South Dakota spent 78% of its total highway capital budget on road repair and preservation during the studied time period and increased its percentage of roads in “good condition” from 36 to 52%.

“The Michigan Dept. of Transportation (DOT) implemented a program called Preserve First, which prioritizes projects that improve the conditions of existing roads and bridges,” the report said. “Between 2004 and 2008, the state allocated 86% of combined repair and expansion funds to road repair and preservation projects. As a result, Michigan’s roads are improving faster than most other states: the percentage of roads in good condition rose from 48% in 2004 to 60% in 2008.”

According to the report, only four states (Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York), and the District of Columbia are “spending at or above the level necessary to keep good roads good and make bad roads better.”

Citing FHWA statistics, the report’s authors note that preserving one lane-mile in good condition costs more than 50% less over 25 years than letting that lane-mile deteriorate to the point that it needs major repairs.

“State investments in repair should be revised to acknowledge this valuable cost-saving strategy,” the report said.

In addition to decreasing revenues from fuel taxes, one major problem that exists in a number of states is that there is no benchmark for what condition pavement should be maintained to.

“Arkansas, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and West Virginia do not have benchmarks for pavement conditions, which means they lack an important way to set and evaluate goals for ideal road conditions,” the report said. “In addition, 15 states have established quantifiable performance targets for a minimum percentage of pavement to be ‘fair’ or ‘not poor.’ This is not the best way to measure performance, however, as this category includes roads in good condition as well as roads that are only one pothole away from being in poor condition. In all, conditions standards need to be strengthened.”

The report concludes by offering states a number of strategies, including establishing high, but achievable condition targets; improving transparency to garner more public support; focusing attention on heavily traveled roads; and considering the impact on job creating, return-on-investment, and long-term costs when making spending decisions.

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