If The Onion covered last week’s TIGER 2 announcements

Kittery-Portsmouth Memorial Bridge, originally uploaded by cmh2315fl.

If The Onion were covering last week’s TIGER 2 announcements, the headline would be: “DOT to replace the deteriorating Kittery-Portsmouth Memorial Bridge; other 70,997 bridges out of luck.”

Serious policy analysts don’t talk like that, but in fact the US Department of Transportation rates 12 percent (71,000) of the nations’ bridges as “structurally deficient,” which means that a bridge has a major defect in its support structure or its deck is cracking and deteriorating.

TIGER 2 will repair of three (3) of them.

US DOT is achieving absolutely crucial goals with the TIGER program like:

  1. Demonstrating that there are an enormous number of good projects that are ready-to-go.
  2. Establishing that these projects would be picked by a funding process that applied common-sense criteria like, “improves the condition of existing facilities”.
  3. Actually funding some of those projects to improve everyone’s safety and quality of life.

Any panel of regular citizens would have chosen to repair Memorial Bridge (which connects New Hampshire and Maine) before it reached a “sufficiency rating” of 6 out of 100; 0 means you can’t use it anymore. But it deteriorated over the decades while new roads were built elsewhere.

The point of this blog post is not to single out the state DOTs who, in fact, are putting up $80 million of the total $100 million of the bridge repair cost. The point is to emphasize:

There are an enormous number of good, ready to go projects. US DOT received more than 1,000 applications totaling nearly $19 billion for the $600 million TIGER 2 pot.

What will happen with the other $18.4 billion in projects?

They are, by definition, ready to go, or they could not have applied to TIGER.

Their proponents clearly believe that they advance the common-sense goals of TIGER, including repair and economic competitiveness.

So will their proposing state DOTs move ahead with them? Maybe. But we might need to ask loudly.

Every project on today’s winning list could be funded under today’s spending rules. State DOTs simply choose not to make them a priority until the pot is sweetened.

This is an inconvenient truth for everyone. For reformers: if we can fund good projects today, why do we need funding reform? For state DOTs: if these are good projects, why are you not building them?

The answer to both questions, in the case of Memorial Bridge, is: the funding incentives are off. Apparently by about 20%. With a different set of rules and incentives, better and safer projects will be built.

The need for reform, then, is clear.

Until we get that reform, we also have $18.4 billion in projects that we should be calling on state DOTs to move to the front of the queue.

They are ready to go.
They will make us better off.
They are fundable.

Let’s act.