Infrastructure Investment Is Needed

By Aram Kalousdian | September 28, 2010

America's infrastructure is crumbling. The "2009 Report Card for America's Infrastructure" produced by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave roads a D- and bridges a C. The report rated one-third of the nation's major roads in poor or mediocre condition and said that 36 percent of major urban highways are congested. It concluded that "the current spending level of $70.3 billion per year for highway capital improvements is well below the estimated $186 billion needed annually to substantially improve the nation's highways."

The report card also concluded that over 26 percent of the nation's bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The report said that "a $17 billion annual investment is needed to substantially improve current bridge conditions. Currently, only $10.5 billion is spent annually on the construction and maintenance of bridges."

Wastewater systems received a D- grade. The report card pointed out that aging wastewater systems are discharging billions of gallons of untreated wastewater into U.S. surface waters each year. "The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the nation must invest $390 billion over the next 20 years to update or replace existing systems" in order to meet increasing demand.

A recent report prepared by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and TRIP said that 13 percent of the nation's bridges no longer meet current highway standards, often because of narrow lanes, inadequate clearances or poor alignment with the approaching roadway.

The AASHTO/TRIP report said that vehicle travel increased by 41 percent from 1990 to 2007, jumping from approximately 2.1 trillion vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in 1990 to approximately 3 trillion VMT in 2007. Motorists logged 2.9 trillion miles on the nation's highways in 2008, in spite of high fuel prices.

"By 2030, vehicle travel in the U.S. is projected to increase another 38 percent to approximately 4.2 million VMT, based on a Federal Highway Administration forecast of an annual VMT growth of 1.4 percent," the AASHTO/TRIP report said.

"Roads and highways that are congested, deficient or lack desirable safety features cost Americans $249 billion annually in the form of lost lives, time and money.

"While material costs are rising, federal, state and local investments in roads, highways, bridges, and public transit are falling far short of levels needed to improve the condition and effectiveness of the nation's highway, bridge and transit systems.

"In 2006 America invested $92 billion in highway and transit capital improvements. The congressionally appointed National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission found in its 2008 report that annual investment would need to increase to between $228 billion and $272 billion annually to significantly improve the highway, transit, passenger rail and freight system.

"Twenty states have cut $7.6 billion from their fiscal year 2009 budgets, and 30 states have identified additional shortfalls totaling more than $30 billion. Twenty-five states have also identified shortfalls of $60 billion for fiscal year 2010. In many cases, these budget shortfalls are forcing states to delay billions of dollars in planned transportation improvements."

The message is quite clear: America's infrastructure is deteriorating, and the nation is not doing what is required to put it in good condition. If America continues to put off making the necessary investments in infrastructure, it will only become more expensive. The phrase "time is money" has never been more relevant than when it comes to investment in infrastructure.

We need bold leadership at all levels of government that will think big, as President Dwight Eisenhower did with the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s. President Eisenhower saw the need for a vast network of highways. He wasn't only thinking about the immediate needs of the nation; he was thinking about what the nation would need for decades to come. We need that level of commitment and vision and we need it now.