The Brookings Institution hosted an event this morning titled “State Roads to Economic Recovery: Policies, Pavements, and Partnership,” a multi-panel event organized in conjunction with the release “Fix it First, Expand it Second, Reward it Third – A New Strategy for America’s Highways,” a new report from the Hamilton Project analyzing the impact of state and national transportation infrastructure investments.
Matt Kahn, Professor of Economics at UCLA, who coauthored the report with David Levinson of the University of Minnesota, presented the proposal to a packed crowd at this morning’s event. Over 80% of the current U.S. highway system, Kahn explained, was built before 1972 – almost forty years ago. Kahn and Levinson recommend a three-step approach to maintaining this aging infrastructure: fix it first, expand it second and reward it third. By focusing on fixing existing infrastructure before creating new, the report explains, states can boost their economy and maximize the number of jobs created.
Bruce Katz, Vice President and Director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, highlighted the fact that state governments are currently under tremendous pressure to transform their economies, and identified transportation infrastructure as a crucial future investment to drive growth in metro regions across the country. Robert Puentes, Senior Fellow at Brookings, noted that transit systems are necessary to, “move goods, ideas and workers quickly and efficiently.”
Recent Lessons from the Stimulus: Transportation Funding and Job Creation, released by Smart Growth America earlier this month, makes similar recommendations about transportation investments that maximize jobs, reduce costs and prepare for long-term economic growth. A national poll conducted by Smart Growth America and Hart Research in November 2010 found that nearly 91% of voters believe maintaining and repairing our roads and bridges should be the top or a high priority for state spending on transportation programs, and 68% of voters believe that improving and expanding public transportation options should be the top or a high priority.
In a post yesterday, the New York Times’ Economix blog laid out why states should spend on repair and maintenance as well as one of the main challenges to making that happen:
Mr. Kahn and Mr. Levinson call on the federal government to devote its current funding for highways to repair, rather than to the construction of new highways…We build roads we don’t need instead of fixing aging roads that we do need. The Kahn-Levinson solution would force state and local governments to spend their federal dollars on repair…The idea strikes me as promising. The big question, it seems, is how Congress can be persuaded to get out of the business of shiny new roads and concentrate instead on the unglamorous repair work.
By focusing on fixing it first, as recommended by both Kahn and Levinson and Smart Growth America, states can do more with the money they already have and meet transportation challenges while catalyzing economic growth at the same time.