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In the Nation's Interest

5 Issues with America’s Infrastructure

The next planned item on Congress’s and the Administration’s agenda will likely be a sweeping infrastructure plan. The Administration has promised that it will rebuild and repair an American infrastructure in desperate need of just that.[1] CED’s 2017 policy brief, “Fixing America’s Roads & Bridges: The Path Forward,” outlined the problems facing the nation’s roads and bridges and proposed solutions for fixing them.[2] Now is as good a time as any to revisit the issues and solutions that CED put forward in its 2017 brief.[3]

Issues:

America’s roads and bridges cause issues that range from the small daily inconveniences of longer commutes to safety concerns and economic burdens. Below, CED has highlighted US infrastructure’s most pressing problems.   

  1. In 2014, traffic congestion wasted 6.9 billion hours of motorists’ travel time and almost 3.1 billion gallons of fuel.[4]
     
  2. Driving on poor roads cost motorists roughly $112 billion in additional repair and operating costs annually.[5]
     
  3. If the average daily delay for a UPS truck is five minutes due to bad road conditions or congestion and capacity issues, that translates to $105 million in additional annual costs to UPS alone.[6]
     
  4. Americans take over 200 million trips daily across deficient bridges in the 102 largest metropolitan regions[7] 
     
  5. U.S. roads infrastructure received a D rating in the most recent American Society of Civil Engineers report; poor infrastructure has led to an increase in traffic fatalities by 7% from 2014 to 2015.[8]

Solutions:

1. Form public-private partnerships – not only private investment in public capital but also public investment in private technology.

From early investment in technology to the building and maintaining of roads, the private and public sectors have countless opportunities to work together.

The private sector often comes armed with the tools to make sweeping changes that the public sector neither has the budget nor the expertise to enact. Consequently, CED has highlighted the potential for public/private partnerships throughout the road building process. CED believes that the new program should facilitate extensive partnerships that take the form of design-build-finance-operate-maintain contracts, in which private corporations are involved in every step.

These partnerships should extend beyond just the building and maintenance of roads; local, state, and federal governments can improve the state of American infrastructure by investing in private organizations that research and develop improvements in all areas related to transportation. Driverless vehicles, better construction materials that prolong the lives of roads and bridges, real-time traffic and weather alerts, and more should be universal in the 21st century and could have an enormous impact on the health of American infrastructure. With public-private partnerships, these technological developments are not far off.

2. Transition from a fossil fuel tax to a mileage-based user fee or managed traffic lanes to fund bridges and roads.

New sources of funding are needed to keep our roads and bridges safe and reliable. CED has recommended transitioning to mileage-based user fees or MBUFs to meet this need. Drivers would pay a distance-based fee to use the roads with the price per mile depending on the demand for road space at that time of day. Such change would not only increase funds for road upkeep but would also decongest roads as people may opt to drive at a “cheaper” time.

Like mileage-based user fees, managed lanes would be an additional source of revenue that can go towards maintenance and creation of new roads and bridges. In this system, unlike with MBUFs, people would opt in to pay a fee or a premium to use uncongested lanes, thus achieving a more reliable commute or travel experience. Managed traffic lanes would ultimately have the same effect as MBUFs, with less congestion and more funds to go towards future infrastructure improvement. 

3. Develop a big-picture, data-driven approach to project selection.

Too often road and bridge projects are driven by politics rather than system needs, wasting both time and money. Instead, CED urges governments to employ a more data-driven approach that emphasizes engineering reviews in their infrastructure project selection.

4. Streamline the regulatory review process

CED prioritizes smart regulation when it comes to our financial and monetary systems—and this also holds for infrastructure as well. In 2011, the average time to secure approvals for a major infrastructure project in the US was between six and eight years.[9] The federal government could help improve our roads and bridges by easing the onerous burden of regulatory approval.

5. Alert the public of the need for infrastructure improvements

Though it may sound trite, our government leaders respond to the demands of their constituents. Americans must urge that their tax dollars are spent efficiently and effectively. Ultimately, the state of our roads and bridges affects every American daily and should be a high priority. The public return on infrastructure merits public dollars of investment, including careful planning and innovation.


[1] As a candidate for President, Trump promised to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/02/27/trump-pledges-to-spend-big-on-infrastructure.html

[2] It should be noted that while infrastructure is a broad term, CED’s research focuses exclusively on roads and bridges. We have chosen to dedicate our time and resources on those two aspects of infrastructure specifically as they account for 88 percent of person miles of travel as compared to 8 percent of PMT through air travel and 1 percent by buses and trains. Ultimately, these numbers indicate that the economic cost of poor road and bridge maintenance and the potential gains from improvement are the greatest in roads and bridges.

[3] http://money.cnn.com/2017/12/18/news/atlanta-hartsfield-jackson-power-outage-cause/index.html; http://www.cnn.com/2017/12/20/us/amtrak-derailment-washington/index.html

[4] See Shrank, Eisele, Lomax, and Bak, 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard, 2015.

[5] http://www.tripnet.org/docs/Urban_Roads_Transport_Topics_11-04-2016.pdf

[6] www.wsj.com/articles/neglected-roads-and-bridges-take-toll-on-u-s-companies-1424740746

[7] R William Johnstone, Protecting Transportation: Implementing Security Policies and Programs (Waltham, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2015), p. 96

[8] www.infrastructurereportcard.org

[9] https://www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/strmlng/nepatime.asp