Statement: States should ‘fix-it-first’ because that’s what’s needed

Media Contacts
Matt Casale

Former Director, Environment Campaigns, PIRG

Critics of U.S. DOT guidance on IIJA road spending are getting it wrong


WASHINGTON — In an open letter sent to governors Wednesday, top Senate Republicans pushed back against the Biden administration’s efforts to encourage states to prioritize climate resilience, public transit and bike paths over highway expansion projects when allocating new infrastructure funding. Instead, they argue that states should be free to spend the money on building new road capacity. This letter comes less than two weeks after a bridge, which had been left in “poor” condition for nearly a decade, collapsed in Pittsburgh. 

After the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) passed, the U.S. Department of Transportation sent a memo to governors encouraging states to spend the $110 billion in new road funding on projects that prioritized the repair and maintenance of existing roads and bridges, while expanding access for all modes of transportation, not just driving.

Between 2009 and 2017, the U.S. public road network grew by almost one-quarter of a million lane miles – enough to pave an area larger than Los Angeles. At the same time, 173,000 miles of road and more than 45,000 bridges in the United States are classified as being in “poor” condition. As of 2017, 11 states had at least 30% of their roads in poor condition.

In response, Matt Casale, U.S. PIRG’s environment and transportation campaigns director, issued the following statement:

“Although it is true that the Department of Transportation’s memo does not carry the force of law, that doesn’t mean it’s not good guidance for states to follow. We have prioritized building new roads for more than a century now, and that’s left us with a congested, polluting and dangerous transportation network. The IIJA provides states with an historic opportunity to make it easier, safer and more pleasant for people to get where they need to go. But to get there, we have to shift gears and spend the money wisely.

“What’s more important? Building a new highway lane that will quickly fill up with new congestion or fixing aging roads and bridges in danger of collapsing? Spending a billion more dollars on a new road we don’t need or making sure our kids have a safe route to school?

“States should adopt a ‘fix-it-first’ policy with the new IIJA money not because it’s required by law, but because it’s what is needed to build a better working, safer and cleaner transportation network for Americans.”