$1,060: The Cost of Decrepit Infrastructure for Your Family Last Year

This chart shows delayed maintenance for infrastructure across modes and time periods. Image: ASCE

Five months’ groceries for a family of four. A year’s worth of textbooks for a college student. One thousand sixty dollars: That’s how much inadequate infrastructure spending cost the average American family last year, according to a new report from the American Society of Civil Engineers, “Failure to Act: The Economic Impact of Current Investment Trends in Surface Transportation Infrastructure.” And it’s only projected to get worse.

The country’s roads, bridges and transit systems are deteriorating, but because of the gradual and diffused nature of the problem, the economic effects aren’t easy to recognize, ASCE asserts.

But make no mistake: deferred maintenance costs American families and businesses dearly. Deteriorating roads do damage to private and commercial vehicles. Extra miles are driven to avoid congested roadways. Unreliable transit systems and commercial trucking routes force users to allot additional time in case of delay, undermining productivity.

All this added up to a four-figure price tag for the average U.S. family in 2010. That’s a total of $130 billion for American families and businesses last year alone.

Looking ahead, things could get much worse, engineers report. If spending levels are held constant, by 2020, businesses would pay an extra $430 billion in transportation costs, household incomes would fall by $7,000 and U.S. exports would fall by $28 billion. This would be a tremendous blow to the economy. By 2040, losses in efficiency related to transportation investment are expected to directly result in the loss of 400,000 jobs — and that’s if spending levels are held constant, not reduced by a third, as Rep. John Mica (R-FL) has proposed.

The desire to reduce infrastructure spending in the midst of a debt crisis is understandable, but it will only make the crisis far worse. “You run a deficit both when you borrow money and when you defer maintenance that needs to be done,” said former National Economics Council Director Larry Summers. “Either way, you’re imposing a cost on future generations.”

Plus, many experts warn that what would be a cheap fix now will be a costly overhaul if infrastructure is allowed to deteriorate beyond repair.

“This report should serve as a wake-up call to policy makers and politicians alike,” said former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, co-chair of Building America’s Future, a bi-partisan group dedicated to increasing investment in U.S. infrastructure. “The consequences of inaction are quite clear: Failure to make smart investments in our infrastructure will erode our nation’s economic competitiveness and leave an indelible mark on the quality of life for every American.”

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Obama Takes Another Swing at $50 Billion in Infrastructure Spending

|
President Obama is pressing for infrastructure investment again as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations. The president kicked off talks calling for an end to the debt ceiling, the extension of middle-class tax cuts, and $50 billion in infrastructure spending — a proposal that first arose last year as part of his ultimately unsuccessful American […]

A National Infrastructure Bank: Can the U.S. Learn From Europe?

|
On Labor Day, President Barack Obama gave a speech in which he pushed for the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank. Legislation that would establish the bank was introduced over the summer in Senate Bill 1926, authored by Chris Dodd of Connecticut and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. But the idea of an independent financing entity […]

The Problem With “Infrastructure Week”

|
You may have noticed that it’s “Infrastructure Week” in America — a time where engineering and construction industry groups beat the drum for more money, using big numbers and images of collapsing bridges. You can follow the dialogue on Twitter. It’s full of value-neutral statements like this one from Democratic members of the House Committee on Transportation […]