Arizona PIRG Education Fund
Over the last 50 years, America has built roads and bridges at a pace and scale that dwarfs most of the rest of the world. We’ve built a national highway network like no other, with more than 45,000 miles of interstate highway and 575,000 highway bridges.
Now, much of that system is showing its age – and as maintenance needs continue to grow, we are falling farther behind. Across the nation, drivers face more than 90,000 miles of crumbling highways and more than 70,000 decaying bridges. Neglected maintenance of roads and bridges acts as a constant drain on our economy and a scourge on our quality of life. Rough and rutted roads cause accidents, damage vehicles, trigger traffic jams that lead to countless hours of delay, and waste money Americans need for other expenses. On some occasions – such as the 2007 collapse of the I-35 bridge connecting Minneapolis – it can lead to profound tragedy.
Why are America’s roads and bridges in such terrible shape? And who or what is to blame?
The deterioration of our roads and bridges is no accident. Rather, it is the direct result of countless policy decisions that put other considerations ahead of the pressing need to preserve our investment in the highway system. Political forces often undermine a strong commitment to maintenance: Members of Congress, state legislators and local politicians thrive on ribbon-cuttings. Powerful special interests push for new and bigger highways. Meanwhile, federal and state policies – which should provide strong guidance in the wise use of taxpayer dollars – often fail to achieve the proper balance between building new infrastructure and taking care of what we already have built.
To fix our roads and bridges, America first must fix our transportation policies. To counteract the tendencies to neglect repair and maintenance, we must adopt strong “fix-it first” rules that give priority to maintenance of our existing roads and bridges, set national goals for the condition of our transportation system, and hold state governments accountable for achieving results.
This report describes how America’s roads and bridges are in disrepair, bringing together a wide variety of statistics and sources with state-by-state analysis. It shows how special interest pressure tilts the playing field toward the construction of new and ever-wider highways at the expense of repair and maintenance. U.S. transportation policy fails to properly emphasize highway and bridge maintenance, with federal transportation policies allocating vast amounts of money to the states with little direction and no accountability, and with Congressional earmarks further tilting spending away from maintenance. State transportation funding policies are often similarly short-sighted, focusing on the creation of politically popular new highways rather than maintaining existing roads and bridges.
Spending more money on transportation won’t fix America’s roads and bridges without a top-to-bottom shift in funding priorities and policies. The report’s recommendations include ways to:
- Make highway and bridge maintenance as a national priority.
- Reorganize federal highway programs to focus exclusively on either maintenance or new construction.
- Require states receiving federal aid to plan for future maintenance before building new roads.
- Measure performance the right way.
- Reward states for good performance on national objectives.
- States to create their own fix-it-first policies