Decades of disproportionate spending by states on road expansion at the expense of regular repair have left many state roads in poor condition. Federal Highway Administration data indicate that half of all major state roads were in “fair” or “poor” condition in 2008, and in 2009 the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s roads a “D-,” down from a “D” in 2005.
In spite of this enormous repair backlog, the vast majority of states continue to inadequately fund road repair projects. By underfunding repair and allowing roads to fall out of good condition, state leaders are choosing the most expensive type of repair possible, as rehabilitating a road that has completely deteriorated is substantially more expensive than keeping that road in good condition in the first place.
Adding further urgency to these budget concerns is that with every dollar spent on new construction, states add to a road system they are already failing to adequately maintain. As a result, states face a large and growing financial burden.
A smarter investment: road repair and preservation
Investing in repair and preservation does more than make headway on an inevitable problem; it actively reduces the scale of future costs. According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, every $1 spent to keep a road in good condition avoids $6-14 needed later to rebuild the same road once it has deteriorated significantly. Prioritizing repair and preservation makes good fiscal sense and brings with it a host of additional benefits. This report examines road conditions and spending priorities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and recommends changes at the state and federal level that would benefit taxpayers while creating a better transportation system.