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2015 Transportation Report: Will Congress Finally Invest in America’s Roadways?

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the American Public Transportation Association recently released the “2015 Bottom Line Report” on transportation investment needs.

The results aren’t pretty, but they aren’t unexpected, either.

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The report estimates that the US government will need to invest $120 billion in the nation’s highway and bridge network and $43 billion in public transportation infrastructure just to meet current demand. In order to meet the combined surface transportation needs, an additional investment of $163 billion investment per year over a six year period would be required. Despite those needs, only $83 billion is invested in roads and bridges currently and a mere $17.1 billion is currently invested in public transit.

Upon the release of the report, AASHTO Executive Director Bud Wright said, “The top priority for every state transportation department is to keep America’s surface transportation system operating safely and efficiently.” While the report shines a bright light on the extreme gap between what is spent and what is required, Wright also said that if the government would put more resources into these projects, it would free up the backlog that has plagued the system for decades. The investment would not just repair our nation’s roads and bridges, but would also benefit construction workers, local economies, and the greater US economy at large.

A Dire Situation for America’s Bridges and Roadways

The report identified 64,000 structurally deficient bridges currently in operation in the United States. A bridge is classified as deficient if its deck, superstructure, or culvert is rated as “poor.” The rating does not necessarily mean that the bridge is unsafe, however. Every bridge is subject to regular inspection, and should a bridge fail inspection, it is closed. There was a decrease in this category from 1994 to 2013, thanks to an increase in federal infrastructure spending aimed at repairing or replacing old bridges.

However, no inspection plan is ever fool-proof. In 2007, during rush hour traffic, the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 145. The bridge carried 140,000 vehicles per day, and had passed its inspection. Post-collapse review indicated that a design flaw was the cause of the fall. However, a serious backlog in government projects could put other roadways and bridges in jeopardy. The current state of “good repair” backlog is $87.7 billion – and that is just for maintaining things at their existing level. The backlog for structurally deficient roadways and bridges could have a more significant impact.

What Will it Take to Get Congress to Invest?

Everyone can agree that the safety of bridges and the condition of roads is essential. The business community, trade unions, and professional associations have all been able to work together for the common good to get Congress’s attention, but they have yet to be able to get the government to reach a consensus when it comes to long-term investments in national transportation infrastructure.

While Congress sits on its hands, freight ton mileage is expected to increase 72 percent by 2040 and Americans are turning to driving as their primary means of long-distance transportation in the wake of increased airline fares and fees and falling gas prices. The increased traffic will only increase the investment required of the government to keep roads and bridges in good working order. It remains to be seen what the 2015 session of Congress will mean for transportation infrastructure.

You can read the full Bottom Line report here: http://bottomline.transportation.org/