Digging a Hole: What's Behind America's Aversion to Fixing It First?

America’s bridges are deficient and its roads are potholed. The gas tax hasn’t been raised in over a decade, leaving revenues insufficient to maintain the infrastructure we have.

Seattle residents want infrastructure maintenance more than new construction, so why does the government continue to prioritize new projects when the current system is in such disrepair? Image: ##http://publicola.com/2011/04/28/poll-seattle-residents-want-city-to-maintain-streets-not-build-new-projects/?utm_source=RSS+Feed&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+publicola+%28PubliCola%29## PubliCola##

Yet a strong bias toward new construction persists in American transportation policies. The Economist commented on this disconnect recently in a story about the state of U.S. infrastructure titled “Life in the Slow Lane.” Network blog the Transportationist carried this excerpt:

Although America still builds roads with enthusiasm, according to the OECD’s International Transport Forum, it spends considerably less than Europe on maintaining them. In 2006 America spent more than twice as much per person as Britain on new construction; but Britain spent 23% more per person maintaining its roads.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that America needs to spend $20 billion more a year just to maintain its infrastructure at the present, inadequate, levels. Up to $80 billion a year in additional spending could be spent on projects which would show positive economic returns. Other reports go further. In 2005 Congress established the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission. In 2008 the commission reckoned that America needed at least $255 billion per year in transport spending over the next half-century to keep the system in good repair and make the needed upgrades. Current spending falls 60% short of that amount.”

Everyday Americans, meanwhile, favor maintenance over new infrastructure, at least according to a poll commissioned by the city of Seattle. Erica C. Barnett at Network blog PubliCola has this to say about the results:

Asked whether building new projects or maintaining existing infrastructure was a bigger priority, just 15 percent of respondents said building new projects was more important. Thirty percent said maintenance was more important, and 54 percent said both were important.

Ranked in order of priority, Seattle residents’ top transportation investments were: Paving streets/repairing potholes (69 percent); repairing or replacing aging bridges (68 percent rated this “important” or “very important”); improving the most heavily used roads (62 percent); and modifying existing roads to work safely for all users (59 percent).

As always, we’d like to hear your opinions: Why does new construction continue to be prioritized over maintenance in the United States? Is it because politicians like to cut ribbons? Bureaucratic inertia? The road lobby?

Elsewhere on the Network today: Steven Can Plan ponders the tendency of news articles about cyclists to bring out the misanthropes. Urban Velo reports that Bicycling Magazine is shifting its focus to better incorporate urban cycling culture. And Reinventing Urban Transport wonders whether “mobility brokers” are the next logical step to help car-free city dwellers navigate the growing range of transportation options.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Survey Reveals Huge Appetite for Transit Expansion in Seattle

|
Sound Transit in Seattle recently commissioned a survey to gauge support for pumping $15 billion into light rail expansion from local taxes. About 1,500 voters were interviewed by phone in Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties about their appetite for such an increase. The questions were phrased neutrally and showed “overwhelming” support for continuing to expand transit options […]

Debunking the Myth of Motorist Entitlement to Monopolize the Road

|
There’s an old line among opponents of cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. It says road construction funds shouldn’t be used to build bike lanes and sidewalks because cyclists and pedestrians don’t contribute to the gasoline taxes that fund road construction. A bicyclist may be able to duck past high gas prices, but everyone pays for roads. […]

Oregonians Less Interested in Bigger Highways, More Excited for Bike/Ped

|
By more than a two-to-one margin, Oregon residents would rather maintain existing highways than expand them. That’s one of the most interesting findings from a recent survey of state residents taken by the Oregon Department of Transportation. Oregon residents’ attitudes to transportation infrastructure seem to be changing quickly, reports Michael Andersen at Bike Portland. They […]