InfrastructureStates, localities to assume more responsibilities for rebuilding U.S. aging infrastructure

Published 5 November 2012

Infrastructure in the United States is in bad shape; Maryland needs more than $100 million a year for its bridges; Virginia needs $125 million per year for roads that need repaving; Washington’s failure to create a long-term funding plan to repair the nation’s infrastructure is forcing state and local governments to fill the void in federal funding

Infrastructure in the United States is in bad shape. Maryland needs more than $100 million a year for its bridges; Virginia needs $125 million per year for roads that need repaving. Hurricane Sandy’s wrath did $20 billion of damage in Manhattan alone, and 8.2 million lost power in the region hit by the storm.

Washington’s failure to create a long-term funding plan to repair the nation’s infrastructure is forcing state and local governments to fill the void in federal funding, according to Standard and Poor’s rating services (S&P).

“The burden to finance infrastructure projects will fall more heavily on local government entities or users in the form of higher rates or tolls,” S&P financial analysts said this past week, “and some important construction could simply be deferred.”

According to S&P, the United States has a $2.2 trillion backlog of infrastructure repairs, something most politicians have been quiet about during campaign season.

The Washington Post reports that during the presidential and vice-presidential debates, the only mention of infrastructure was when President Obama said that the money saved by ending wars could be used to rebuild roads, bridges, and schools.

Geoffrey Buswick, the analyst who wrote the report for Standard and Poor, knows the infrastructure issue will not be resolved easily. “We see an expectation in the foreseeable future for reduced federal funding,” Buswick told the Post. “The longer there is a tepid economic recovery, the more difficult it is to raise rates. There’s already a gap in funding and it’s only going to get greater, so it’s the longer term that we’re more worried about than the shorter term.”

The repairs that need to be made, and the money that will be needed for them, are staggering. 70,000 bridges in the United States need to be repaired or replaced, thousands of miles of road need to be dug up and rebuilt, and $30 billion need to be spent on U.S. ports to stay competitive in a global marketplace.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, $107 billion is needed by 2020 to redesign electrical grids around the country. The price tag to fix the nation’s water system is $335 billion, and $300 billion more will be needed to repair wastewater systems.

When it comes to utilities, homeowners and renters alike will face the reality of increasing rates over the next few years. As for roads and bridges, funds going to the Highway Trust Fund may well decline substanbtially as federal budget cuts are expected next year.

Even if the cuts are delayed or cancelled, funding for roads and bridges will become a congressional issue in the future.

Jack Basso, chief operating officer of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, knows that states are taking matters in into their own hands by considering a shift from a gas tax to a highway usage fee, which bills a person by the amount they drive.

“It’s controversial, it’s touchy, but you’re still paying for your use of the systems,” Basso told the Post. “Oregon is getting closer and closer to converting to that system, the state of Washington is looking closely at it, Nevada’s looking closely at it, Minnesota’s looking closely at it, and will [increased bridge and highway] tolls pay a significant part? I think they will, because that’s going to be the state and local alternative.”

New York City is considering charging drivers who do not use the EZ-Pass automated toll system an extra dollar for tolls, and instituted a $4 toll increase last year on the George Washington Bridge and the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels, as well as three other bridges between New Jersey and Staten Island, to increase funds available for fixing roads and bridges.

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