Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Infrastructure Fails While Budgets Stagnate

LA Times:
U.S. spending for transportation and other infrastructure accounts for 2.4% of its economy versus about 12% for China, says economist David Dollar, a former China director for the World Bank. Europe's infrastructure spending is about 5%.
Dollar, now with the Brookings Institution, says visiting Chinese officials and business leaders frequently remark how surprised they are at America's declining infrastructure, sometimes asking whether they can help finance improvements.
American politicians, from President Obama down to small-town mayors, decry the deplorable condition of infrastructure, but many are reluctant to raise taxes or boost tolls and user fees.
Between the federal government and local entities, government spending for highways runs less than $90 billion a year, which is barely enough to maintain the status quo, let alone improve roadway conditions and performance.
That's partly why the share of congested highways in U.S. cities has risen from 25% in the early 1980s to more than 40% today, according to the Transportation Department. Roads with "acceptable ride quality" fell from 87% in 1995 to 82% in 2010.
It's especially tough for states such as Rhode Island that have been lagging economically and depend heavily on Uncle Sam for transportation funds. The federal highway program is funded by an 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax, but that hasn't budged since 1993.
Now, the fund is on the verge of insolvency. Congress came through last week with a last-minute replenishment of money, but it'll only last until May.
The upshot is that states and localities make do with what they can.
A quarter of the country's 147,870 bridges are deficient or obsolete, according to a July report by the White House on infrastructure investment. Rhode Island's are in the worst shape in the nation, with 57% of its bridges falling into those categories.
We can't afford to maintain the infrastructure we have, and we've under-invested for decades.  We built way too much infrastructure revolving around automobiles, and way too much infrastructure in sprawling suburbs.  Meanwhile, we abandoned many areas of our major cities, and let their roads, transit and utility lines rot.  We are starting our long, slow retreat to a lower standard of living.  It isn't going to be pretty.

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