State departments of transportation (DOTs) are spending more money building new roads than maintaining the ones they have—despite the fact that roads are crumbling, financial liabilities are mounting and conditions are not improving for America’s drivers.
The amount states would need to spend to bring roads in poor condition into a state of good repair while also maintaining their existing systems.
Those are the findings of Repair Priorities 2014: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads, a new report out today from Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense. The report examines road conditions in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, how much states currently invest in road repair and how much they would need to spend to adequately maintain America’s roads.
Between 2009 and 2011, states spent $20.4 billion each year on road expansion. During that same period, states spent $16.5 billion on road repair—not enough to keep road conditions from declining. From 2008 to 2011, the amount of roads in good condition decreased from 41 percent to 37 percent, while the number in poor condition increased from 17 percent to 21 percent.
These spending decisions come with serious implications for DOT finances and taxpayers. States would need to spend a whopping $45.2 billion per year—three times what they currently spend—to bring roads in poor condition into a state of good repair and keep them that way. If states had spent $20.4 billion each year since 2009 on repair instead of expansion, they would have been on track to have no roads in poor condition by 2014.
State leaders—including governors, legislators and DOT officials—have the ability to change these priorities for the better. This report recommends ways for state officials to increase the portion of funds going to repair, including raising the public profile of repair projects; using asset management practices; focusing repair investments on the most heavily used roads; setting aggressive targets for pavement conditions; and using cost-benefit analysis to prioritize road investments.
The report also recommends ways for federal agencies to encourage state investments in repair, notably by tying available federal funding to the condition of state highways and modifying current approaches for reporting state road conditions.These strategies can improve road conditions for drivers and the financial outlook of America’s DOTs at the same time.