States should employ a fix-it-first approach to transportation investment. Departments of Transportation should ensure that preventive maintenance and repair of existing roads are the highest priority for spending. This approach reduces maintenance costs later, supports business and residential investment in areas already served by transportation infrastructure, and creates jobs. Nationwide, about two-thirds of state transportation funds are spent on the construction of new roads. Meanwhile, about half of our existing roads and bridges show signs of poor maintenance. A fix-it-first policy can begin to correct this imbalance.
Moreover, the bias toward building highways to provide new capacity encourages growth in undeveloped areas rather than in existing centers and corridors. This induced development on parcels near new roads increases travel. In turn, this leads to a failure of new capacity to actually reduce traffic congestion and increases harmful vehicle emissions. Additionally, new roads will eventually need to be maintained, adding to the existing maintenance backlog.
States should begin the process of moving to a fix-it-first policy by making a realistic inventory of existing road and bridge conditions. If inventories already exist, they should be re-examined to verify that current conditions are accurately reflected. Based on this inventory, the State should develop a plan for preventive maintenance employing an asset management approach. Minimizing long-term costs to taxpayers and inconvenience to motorists should be goals. Targets for reducing maintenance and repair backlog should be developed and the most heavily traveled routes should be focused on first. By canceling new construction that does not pass a performance efficiency test and delaying other low-priority projects, states can help pay for this shift in policy. States should set a target date for bringing state roads and highways up to good condition or set targets for the proportion of transportation that will be spent on maintenance or system preservation.
New Jersey’s Fix-it-First Program
The New Jersey legislature first issued a fix-it-first mandate as part of the 2000 Transportation Trust Fund reauthorization. This mandate gave the New Jersey Department of Transportation five years to reduce the amount of deteriorated infrastructure by half. Governor Jim McGreevey’s 2003 Executive Order directed the New Jersey transportation agencies to expedite fix-it-first projects. New Jersey’s Future in Transportation initiative – a collaboration of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, the Office of Smart Growth, and other state agencies – endorsed fix-it-first. Outcomes have included livelier Main Streets, more sensible land use, streets that meet community needs, more transportation options and lasting returns on investment of taxpayer dollars.