New report examines the fiscal implications of chronic underinvestment in road repair

Repair Priorities

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.

$45.2 billion
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.


Smart growth news – September 2

Why the US is unprepared for natural disasters
Public Radio International, September 1, 2011
Bad land-use, urban sprawl and cost-cutting measures by utilities leave US vulnerable to destruction caused by Hurricane Irene and other recent natural disasters.

City to involve county on urban rail planning; new city website shows projects
The Statesman (Texas), August 31, 2011
The city is proposing a system that would connect downtown with the University of Texas, the Mueller neighborhood and Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. City leaders hope to put an urban rail bond proposal for hundreds of millions of dollars on the November 2012 ballot to help build the first piece of what city officials have said will be a $1.3 billion, 16.5-mile system. The city would build that initial segment with bond money, federal grants and possibly other sources.

Residents call for filling vacancies, keeping charm
TribLocal (Ill.), September 1, 2011
Filling vacant properties and preserving the Historic District topped residents’ priorities Wednesday as they helped the city create a new comprehensive plan.


Smart growth news – August 24

Muskegon County bus system proposing expanded routes as ridership grows
Muskegon Chronicle (Mich.), August 24, 2011
A consultant is set to review, at no cost to the county, the transportation options in the county and identify barriers to further coordination that could improve cost efficiency and services. The review and possible changes involving the regulatory barriers for transportation funding is being called a “case study for the country” by Smart Growth America, a coalition of national and state organizations that advocates for smart-growth strategies.

California Among the Toughest States for Motorcyclists
U.S. Politics Today, August 24, 2011
Roads in California are rough, and according to a report released by Smart Growth America, only 30 percent of the state’s highways are in good shape. For bikers around the state, this is no surprise: Everyday, motorcycle riders must navigate around obstructions like potholes and problems with the roads’ poorly maintained pavement.

Creating a ‘City For All Ages’
San Ramon Patch (Calif.), August 24, 2011
By 2030, 25 percent of the Bay Area’s population will be 65 and older, according to the California Department of Finance. So what does that mean for San Ramon? According to Don Weden – one of those experts warning folks to prepare for an aging population – that means the city needs to start planning future development to accommodate the over-65 crowd.


Smart growth news – July 20, 2011

The road to budget priorities is full of potholes
The Daily Astorian (Ore.), July 19, 2011
A coalition of citizens groups is working to shed light on this problem, including 1000 Friends of Oregon, Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense. According to a coalition report, 43 percent of Oregon’s roads are not in good condition, and the cost of bringing these roads up to snuff increases every year.

California’s rough roads tough on motorcyclists
San Jose Mercury (Calif.), July 19, 2011
Although numerous paving projects are under way or soon to begin in the Bay Area, the hope for smoother roads is bleak. A report last week by Smart Growth America found that only 30 percent of California’s state-owned highways were in good shape.

Smart-growth principles can deflate congestion, drive economic growth
Sun Sentinel (Fla.), July 17, 2011
We all want our region to be competitive in the global marketplace. It’s how we make this happen that is the crux of this discussion. Transit and transportation choices are the bones of a sustainable, competitive Florida.

Does US-style planning and smart growth work elsewhere?
NRDC, July 19, 2011
Do American ideas of sustainable communities, smart growth and urbanism work elsewhere? Here are a couple of leading architectural thinkers discussing the challenges.


Smart growth news – July 11, 2011

Fire departments and new urbanism’s village design at odds
USA Today, July 6, 2011
Urban villages, quaint and pedestrian-friendly developments embraced by environmentalists, are sparking opposition from fire officials who say the streets are too narrow for their fire engines.

Two roads to traffic relief for D.C. area
The Washington Post, July 9, 2011
We’re stuck in traffic and jammed aboard trains, and we really want to know if anybody has a way out of this mess, a road map for solutions within our lifetimes. I asked Richard Parsons, president of the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance, and Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, to define the problem, propose solutions and tell us how we would know if their ideas worked. Their routes to relief follow different maps.

N.J. development sprawl has continued, study says, July 9, 2011
“Large-lot subdivisions lock in a residential land-use pattern that excludes many New Jersey residents that can’t afford large single-family homes and often prevents those people from living near their jobs,” Hasse said. “When housing growth doesn’t keep up with job growth, that’s inconsistent with the goals of smart growth and it means gridlock traffic with people having to travel to their jobs.”

The Costs of Smart Growth Revisited: A 40 Year Perspective
New Geography, July 8, 2011
“Soaring” land and house prices “certainly represent the biggest single failure” of smart growth, which has contributed to an increase in prices that is unprecedented in history. This finding could well have been from our new The Housing Crash and Smart Growth, but this observation was made by one of the world’s leading urbanologists, Sir Peter Hall, in a classic work 40 years ago.


Smart Growth America applauds Senator Cardin for introducing bill to improve highway maintenance and repair

U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) yesterday introduced legislation to prioritize spending on highway repair and preservation for the benefit of America’s drivers, state budgets and the federal funds that support the country’s major roads. The “Preservation and Renewal of Federal-Aid Highways Act” will ensure adequate and consistent investments in the country’s existing transportation infrastructure, a strategy in line with Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense’s recent report Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads.

Geoff Anderson, President and CEO of Smart Growth America and co-chair of the Transportation for America campaign, issued the following statement:

“With this legislation Senator Cardin has proposed an approach to highway spending that is fiscally responsible for both states and the federal government, and Smart Growth America applauds him for taking action in the face of the significant financial threat posed by decades of neglected road repair.

“Roads in many states are falling in to disrepair and these declining conditions cost taxpayers billions of dollars in preventable expenses. Even worse, many states continue to expand their road networks at the cost of regular repair, and with each dollar spent on expansion states add to a road system they are already failing to maintain.

“Senator Cardin’s proposal incorporates many of Smart Growth America’s recent recommendations, including establishing national standards for state-of-good-repair, encouraging states to invest proportionately more of their transportation dollars in repair, rather than expansion, and taking proactive steps to addressing the country’s backlog of road repair needs. As the Senator said in his statement about the proposed bill, investing in repair makes good fiscal sense, good safety sense, and good business sense for our country and we look forward to supporting this bill as it moves through Congress.”

See current state condition standards along with spending priorities and road conditions at


The problem with potholes: neglected road repair poses huge liabilities for many states

Crossposted from the Huffington Post

For decades, states have invested disproportionately in road expansion and left regular repair and preservation underfunded. As a result of these spending decisions, road conditions in many states are getting worse and threaten taxpayers with billions of dollars in preventable expenses.

Between 2004 and 2008, states collectively spent $37.9 billion on road repair and expansion projects. The majority of these funds — 57% — went to just 1.3% of roads during this time. The remaining 99% of states’ road networks received only 43% of funding. Not surprisingly, without adequate funding for repair many roads across the country fell out of good condition during this time.

Investing in expansion at the cost of repair doesn’t just mean a rougher ride on some roads: it’s a transportation investment strategy that poses huge financial liabilities for states. Putting off repairs today means spending much more on those repairs in the future, as repair costs rise exponentially as road conditions decline. According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, repairing a road that has fallen into poor condition can cost up to 14 times as much as preserving a road in good condition to begin with. Compounding these costs is the fact that with every dollar spent on road expansion, states add to a system they are already failing to adequately maintain.

According to a new report by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, states would collectively need to spend $43 billion every year for 20 years to bring the country’s roads currently in poor condition up to good condition and then keep them that way. To put this figure in perspective, $43 billion is more than what states are currently spending on all repair, preservation, and new capacity combined. The fact that states’ outstanding repair need is so great makes clear that spending priorities have drifted too far from regular repair and, in so doing, have created a deficit that will take decades to reverse.

Preserving a road in good condition through periodic repair is significantly cheaper than allowing it to degrade and then rebuilding it. By prioritizing maintaining roads in good condition, states can avoid the substantially higher cost of bringing crumbling roads back to a state of good repair down the line.

More information about these issues, and recommendations for how state and federal leaders can take action, is available in Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads.


Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads

Decades of underinvestment in regular repair have left many states’ roads in poor condition, and the cost of repairing these roads is rising faster than many states can address them. These liabilities are outlined in a new report by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, released today, which examines road conditions and spending priorities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report recommends changes at both the state and federal level that can reduce future liabilities, benefit taxpayers and create a better transportation system.

Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads found that between 2004 and 2008 states spent 43 percent of total road construction and preservation funds on repair of existing roads, while the remaining 57 percent of funds went to new construction. That means 57 percent of these funds was spent on only 1 percent of the nation’s roads, while only 43 percent was dedicated to preserving the 99 percent of the system that already existed. As a result of these spending decisions, road conditions in many states are getting worse and costs for taxpayers are going up.

“Federal taxpayers have an enormous stake in seeing that our roads are kept in good condition,” said Erich W. Zimmermann of Taxpayers for Common Sense at a briefing earlier today. “Billions of precious tax dollars were spent to build our highway system, and neglecting repair squanders that investment. Keeping our roads in good condition reduces taxpayers’ future liabilities.”

“Spending too little on repair and allowing roads to fall apart exposes states and the federal government to huge financial liabilities,” said Roger Millar of Smart Growth America. “Our findings show that in order to bring their roads into good condition and maintain them that way, states would collectively have to spend $43 billion every year for the next 20 years – more than they currently spend on all repair, preservation and new capacity combined. As this figure illustrates, state have drifted too far from regular preservation and repair and in so doing have created a deficit that is going to take decades to reverse.”

The high cost of poor conditions
According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, every $1 spent to keep a road in good condition avoids $6-14 needed later to rebuild the same road once it has deteriorated significantly. Investing too little on road repair increases these future liabilities, and with every dollar spent on new construction many states add to a system they are already failing to keep in good condition.

State and federal leaders can do more to see that highway funds are spent in ways that benefits driver and taxpayers. More information about the high cost of delaying road repair, how states invest their transportation dollars and what leaders can do to address these concerns is available in the full report.

Click here to read the full report, state-specific data and view the interactive map.