Our failure to fix roads and bridges is going to lead to more accidents and collapses, and a huge economic burden.
Five years ago, our economy took a sharp dive.
Since then, Congress has been unable to produce more than haphazard short-term transportation bills. At the same time, state and local governments forced to balance their budgets had to slash items like infrastructure maintenance.
The stimulus plan infused $46 billion, but that was not enough to offset the dramatic decline in state and local spending.
As a result, $20 billion is needed for infrastructure repairs right now— and every year for the next decade.
A good 50 years
The last major expansion of roads and bridges was during Eisenhower administration. Bridges are built to last up to 50 years, meaning thousands of bridges and highways are already past due for repair or replacement.
The longer they go without maintenance, the more difficult and expensive they become to repair.
8,000 bridges are structurally deficient and “fracture-critical”, meaning the failure of one single piece can cause a total bridge collapse.
Earlier this year, the top of a truck struck part of a bridge on I-5 in Washington, causing it to collapse. The impact was so minor that truck’s driver did not even know that the vehicle made contact with the bridge piece.
Even small bridge and road closures can have a big impact on local economies. An LA Times article described what happened to residents in a small town where 3 bridges are too dangerous to drive on, cutting off residents from work, school, and each other.
Crises on the Roads
Our roads and highways need consistent maintenance to be safe.
The ongoing failure to properly fund our transportation systems will have major repercussions.
First, when the existing road structures are not maintained, eventually they can’t be repaired. Then, we are forced into building new roads at a much greater expense.
Additionally, rough and uneven pavement, or prolific potholes, can put a crack in tire rim, puncture a tire, or damage your car’s alignment.
This cost is picked up by individual drivers, not the government: we pay approximately $67 billion per year in car repairs and operating costs as a result of poor road conditions.
Worse, bad road conditions lead to more accidents and fatalities.
A recent investigation in northern California found dozens of traffic deaths were attributable to poor road conditions in the Bay Area.
Investing in infrastructure
Right now, Congress can finance infrastructure at historically low rates. But the window on this opportunity is closing quickly.
Many Americans are understandably concerned about federal debt. However, the best use of our resources is investing in critically important infrastructure that will allow the economy to grow.
And just one or two critical failures could have a devastating effect requiring federal disaster subsidies that would far outweigh the cost of preventing such a disaster.
We have all benefited from one of the best transportation systems in the world – and now we are abandoning it. The cost of remaking and rebuilding our infrastructure will be a huge burden on future generations.
Transportation projects are long-term investments, and need secured funding. Without it, the infrastructure that built American industry will crumble under our feet.