Construction Infrastructure : Fixing Old Roads or Building New Ones?
As the ambitious $2.3 trillion infrastructure construction bill is currently being debated in Congress, many states are starting to consider how they will spend the funds they are allocated. For some, the priority will be fixing old roads, which is the preference of the Biden administration. However, other states may focus more on building new roads. Where will these conflicting preferences lead us?
The Need for Upgrades
According to the Federal Highway Administration, the United States faces a road rehabilitation backlog worth some $435 billion. In addition, according to a report from The Washington Post, nearly 164,000 miles of the nation’s roads—about one-fifth of the total—received a poor condition rating in 2019. However, in that same year, states spent $19 billion on expanding their road network rather than tackling repairs.
The proposed infrastructure plan includes $50 billion for improving 20,000 miles of highways and streets, with the intent of making them safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, and more accessible for those who rely on wheelchairs. The proposal also includes $40 billion for improving 10,000 bridges.
The Desire to Build
Many states prioritize building new roads and highways because they want to combat congestion and connect growing communities. The effort to accommodate growth is evident across the nation, especially in regions with new residents. Highway expansions can result in decreased traffic jams and faster commutes, which are important for both the commuters and the politicians who represent them.
Balancing the Priorities
According to some transportation experts, building more roads and adding highway lanes is not environmentally sustainable and eventually increases traffic levels instead of reducing congestion. Along with a road-funding bill, the infrastructure proposal would aim to shift the country’s focus from individual cars to more comprehensive bus and train usage.
Based on Federal Highway Administration data, 11 states used less than one-tenth of their road funding for expansion in 2019, including Rhode Island, which focused entirely on rehabilitation and spent nothing on new roads that year. However, eight states spent more than two-thirds of their road funding on expansion. That includes Washington state, which faces a more than $900 million maintenance and preservation shortfall each year. According to The Washington Post analysis, Washington is the eighth-worst state in terms of road condition, yet in 2019 it was fourth in the nation in road construction expansion. The latest census indicates that between 2010 and 2020, Washington state’s population grew 14.6 percent, so in some ways, new roads can seem justified. But failing to maintain existing roads can be shortsighted and dangerous.
According to a 2019 report from Transportation for America, a policy group supporting road maintenance, many states are building new roads without having the funds to maintain them. Per that group’s data, every new road lane results in another $24,000 needed per mile for annual maintenance.
Beyond the added maintenance cost, researchers have discovered that as roads are expanded, people tend to drive more, so any decrease in congestion is canceled out over time. Instead of building new roads, they suggest that communities focus on expanding mass transit, which the Biden proposal supports.
What the Future Holds
How will Congress resolve the infrastructure proposal? No doubt there will be some level of compromise from both sides of the aisle. As for road creation and maintenance, some Democrats contend that federal aid to states should be prioritized to improve the country’s worst roads, but many Republicans believe that such funding decisions should remain with state transportation offices. Time will tell how the federal government allocates the funding and how the states choose to use it.
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Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.