Houston: A tale of two transportation systems

a photo of Houston from the north looking southeast.
The average American currently drives nearly twice as far each day as they did 30 years ago. Taking a cursory look at two radically different transportation plans for Houston, TX shows how the default position of federal transportation policy is to increase driving—and consequently pollution—by offering billions to states to build new roads and make existing roads wider, while making transit projects wait in line or compete for much smaller amounts of funding.

Transportation

Making the most of limited transportation dollars: WYDOT does it right

State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) across the country face tightening budgets, and one DOT recently stepped up to make the most of the funds it has.

The Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) has positioned itself responsibly for the future. On November 16, the agency announced it will stop approving highway expansion projects and will focus resources toward repair of the state’s existing road system. This announcement comes just months after the publication of Repair Priorities, a report by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, which made recommendations along these lines.

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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 www.smartgrowthamerica.org/repair-priorities.

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Smart growth news, June 6, 2011

Could Focusing on Repairs Please Everyone?
National Journal, June 6, 2011
Smart Growth America may have provided one clue that could inch the committee down the yellow brick road. A report released last week found that between 2004 and 2008, states spent 43 percent of total road construction and preservation funds on the repair of existing roads, while the remaining 57 percent of funds went to new construction.

Report Lists How Much $ Each State Would Need To Maintain Roads
SRTC (Spokane Washington MPO) Transportation Blog, June 3, 2011
We’ve been talking for years about how decades of underinvestment in regular maintenance have left the nation’s roads in poor condition, and the cost of repairing them is rising faster than we can address it. But just how bad is the situation? A report released this week by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense examines road conditions and spending priorities in all 50 states.

Study: State Spends Too Much On New Roads, Not Enough on Maintenance
PubliCola, June 1, 2011
According to a new study from Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, US states, including Washington, spend far more on new road construction than they do on maintaining the roads they have—a situation Transportation Choices Coalition calls a “financial time bomb” as states build hundreds of miles of roads and highways they can’t afford to keep in safe working condition.

The Virtues of Investing in Transportation
New York Times Economix blog, June 3, 2011
In a time of budget austerity, the allocation of scarce federal dollars for infrastructure must be guided by cost-benefit analysis — rather than by earmarks and formula-based grants, as is currently the case. That’s why the Obama administration is calling for the use of performance criteria and “race to the top” competition among state and local governments to allocate federal spending among competing projects.

Jersey City Establishes ‘Complete Streets’ Policy
The Jersey City Independent, June 3, 2011
Jersey City paved the way for a more egalitarian use of the city’s transportation infrastructure by establishing a Complete Streets policy at the last City Council meeting, by a unanimous 9 to 0 vote. The policy, which calls for “roadways that enable safe and convenient access for all users,” represents the planning community’s rethinking of what — and whom — a road should be designed for.

According to Jay Corbalis, a policy analyst at New Jersey Future, a nonprofit organization that promotes smart growth, a Complete Streets policy is the “philosophy that when you build a road, you build it for all users.” He says Jersey City is a huge addition to the handful of municipalities that have embraced the policy.

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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.

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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.

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