Funding The Nations InfrastructureFebruary 13th, 2017 Author: Doug Thaler
You would certainly think that there are enough tax dollars, toll dollars,
gas tax dollars, etc. in the till to pave the roads in gold, send every kid to private school & send every family on a two week paid vacation. The National highway system of 41,000 miles cost approximately $30 billion dollars in 1956, adjusted for inflation approximately $250 billion in today’s dollars. So you would think that the $400 billion recently awarded to transportation by congress would fix our ailing infrastructure. Not a chance. The biggest difference was that it was originally paid for with a non divertable gas tax. This means that the states could not use the money for anything but building roads. So what does that mean today?
How many billions of dollars would it take in today’s dollars for enough of the money committed to actually end up going to fix what it was earmarked for? And then where do we start? Below is an excerpt from an article by Russell Nichols and Ryan Holeywell on some ideas of how to move forward.
“Six Ideas for Fixing the Nation’s Infrastructure Problems”
Here’s how to plan, fund and make a safer, more efficient transportation system
Without changes to current policy, the commission projects a federal highway and transit funding gap totaling nearly $2.3 trillion through 2035. Here are six ideas for fixing the nation’s infrastructure system — how to plan it, how to fund it and how to make it safer and more efficient than ever.
Revamp the Highway Trust Fund
Speaking before a conference of state transportation officials in a D.C. hotel ballroom in March, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood challenged his audience to ask him some hardball questions. John Schroer, the transportation commissioner from Tennessee, delivered. Schroer wanted to know how Congress and the Obama administration are addressing a situation most state and local transportation officials worry about: the future of the gas tax. “Well,” LaHood replied, “we’re not doing anything about it.”
The nation’s highways are primarily financed by the Highway Trust Fund, which gets most of its money from a gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon. The tax has remained unchanged since 1993 and isn’t tied to the price of gas or inflation.
As a result, it’s lost a third of its purchasing power over the past 18 years. That’s caused both short- and long-term consequences. In the short term, Congress has had to bail out the trust fund to the tune of $35 billion since 2008 — the fund spends more money than it takes in.
In the long term, the situation is even more problematic. As more and more Americans opt for hybrid and electric vehicles — and as cars in general continue to become more fuel efficient — the highway system faces a future in which it is perpetually underfunded. It’s a system, Schroer says today, that is “at best archaic” and certainly cannot work long term.
So what’s the fix? In the short term, a 10-cent increase to the federal gas tax, indexed to inflation, could provide some comfort. A commission authorized in 2005 by the previous highway bill has endorsed that plan as a way to generate an extra $20 billion per year for the trust fun and recapture the tax’s purchasing power. The 10-cent increase would cost U.S. households an average of $9 per month, which would equate to about 1 percent of household spending on owning and operating vehicles. But even that modest bump may be a difficult sell when the price of gas hovers around $4 per gallon. “I don’t think that at this time, raising the gas tax is an option,” says Bill Kennedy, a county commissioner from Yellowstone County, Mont., and a member of the commission that made the recommendation. “I don’t think the public is in favor of that.” It’s not just the federal government that’s reluctant to address gas taxes. No state raised its gas taxes last year, and just a handful did in 2008 and 2009. This year some states took advantage of the OPEC feud and passed a gas tax which it may regret once Opec solidifies a long term plan to raise oil prices.
In the long term, just about everyone besides federal lawmakers endorses a transition from a gas tax to a vehicle miles-traveled fee (VMT). That would be a truer “user fee” that pegs drivers’ payments to their use of roads, essentially solving the funding problem caused by fuel-efficient cars. “We’ve got all these federal policies toward reducing fuel consumption,” says Trey Baker of the Texas Transportation Institute, a research group within Texas A&M University. “But when you drive down fuel consumption, you’re driving down the revenue base. What are you going to do when the vehicle fleet looks completely different than it does now?”
Shifting to a VMT system would not be simple, of course. The biggest initial obstacle involves privacy concerns: Many drivers don’t like the notion of onboard monitors tracking their driving history. Convincing citizens about the necessity of moving to a VMT system might be tough too. According to research conducted by Baker, which involved interviewing focus groups, many Americans have such a minimal understanding of the current funding mechanisms for roads that making the case for a switch could be difficult.
Still, there are signs that a miles-based fee could be on the horizon: Researchers in as many as 16 states have studied the feasibility of a VMT system, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, and some are finding that it could work. States don’t need federal permission to implement a VMT, and some transportation leaders believe the best way to bring about a change from Washington would be by first proving a VMT system is workable at the state level.
Policymakers Should Start To Take Our Infrastructure Seriously
For federal lawmakers on a few key committees, transportation is a major issue. But for most of the rank-and-file, it’s far from the front burner. “For a lot of folks on the Hill, this is just not important enough,” says Susan Binder, a former director of the Federal Highway Administration’s Office of Legislative and Governmental Affairs. “It’s invisible. There are a few players who have been extremely dedicated. [The rest] just don’t seem to have the interest, and it’s absurd.”
Read the rest of this article by Russell Nichols and Ryan Holeywell here.”
Infrastructure Inspections (The 7th way to fix our nations infrastructure)
In addition to figuring out how to best fund revitalizing our infrastructure, it is important for us to better budget existing infrastructure dollars. As the article points out “where do we start”. One place to start would be to understand the condition of the existing infrastructure and to best schedule and budget repairs starting with the most deteriorated infrastructure assets. To make repairs early in an assets lifecycle would extend its lifecycle given us many extra years of use. In addition, avoiding untimely repairs would save billions in infrastructure costs.
Then we need to do employ the latest inspection technology so we actually understand the condition of our infrastructure. How can we possibly budget and make repairs without knowing what needs to be repaired? Today’s inspections are conducted today pretty much the same way they were 50 years ago. If we don’t upgrade our nations inspection guidelines, then its only a matter of time before the next disaster strikes.
Bridge Inspection with lane closures and bucket trucks. In many inspections are conducted at night.
Bridge Inspections with IPC’s Robotic Service. No lane closures, bucket trucks or nighttime inspections.
Above is just one example of how Infrastructure Preservation Corporation is changing the way bridge inspections are conducted. Inspections are safer for the inspector and the public. These robotic inspections can be conducted during the day and have a much higher degree of accuracy than the old method. They are also being conducted within the department of transportations budget and producing a much more detailed assessment than older methods.
The Flashlight method
IPC’s Post Tension Cable X-Ray
When the public’s tax dollars, the public’s safety and and economic vitality are at stake, shouldn’t we do everything we can to make improvements. To find out more go to https://www.infrastructurepc.com.