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Repair Priorities Report Spotlights Deteriorating Roads

Transportation for America and Taxpayers for Common Sense said it will take $231.4 billion per year just to keep our existing road network in acceptable repair and bring the backlog of roads in poor condition into good repair over a six-year period.

They are calling on Congress to address this in any infrastructure package it considers, including the upcoming 2020 federal transportation bill. 

“This is more than a money problem – it’s a priorities problem,” the groups said. “The latest available data shows states have made some improvement in their spending since we released the first edition of Repair Priorities in 2011. That edition found that between 2004 and 2008, states collectively spent $21 billion per year on road expansion and $16 billion per year on repair and preservation. States have increased their spending on road repair in the years since, spending $21.4 billion on average on road repair annually between 2009-2014 (the latest year with available data) and $21.3 billion annually on road expansion. Spending on road repair accounted for 30% of states’ total capital spending on highways over that time, while road expansion accounted for 29%.”

According to the groups, Congress should take the following actions in the 2020 transportation bill to get us back on track: 

  • Guarantee measurable outcomes for American taxpayers with any new funding: The next transportation bill should set clear, quantifiable outcomes the program is expected to accomplish. Congress could set a goal for repairing all roads in poor condition and write a bill that clearly moves the ball forward toward that goal. If it cannot be done in the next six-year authorization bill, Congress should make clear what is feasible. 
  • Require that states repair their existing systems before expanding: Congress should require that states dedicate available highway formula funding to repairing the existing system first. Historically, states have used this formula funding for new road construction. Congress could grant states additional flexibility if they are able to demonstrate that they are keeping their roads in good condition above a certain percentage threshold. 
  • Require project sponsors to demonstrate that they can afford to maintain new roadway capacity projects: To supplement this formula funding now dedicated to repair and maintenance, Congress should create a competitive program to fund highway capacity expansion projects similar to the New Starts transit capital program. Projects should be evaluated for funding based on clear performance criteria to ensure that funded projects produce substantial benefit for the cost, and project sponsors should demonstrate that they can operate and maintain the asset throughout its useful life, ensuring a plan for long-term upkeep. 
  • Track progress and require that FHWA publish results: The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act in 2012 established a requirement that states and metro areas set performance targets for the pavement conditions of the interstate and non-interstate highways they maintain. Yet FHWA did not make those targets publicly available until spring 2019, seven years after passage of the law. The new transportation bill should establish stronger reporting requirements to ensure that our investments produce the needed results.

To learn more, read the report “Repair Priorities” here.