Despite stimulus, U.S. transportation system continues to deteriorate


Despite an “influx of stimulus money” dedicated to improving the transportation system in the U.S., more of the nation’s bridges and roads were in poor condition in 2011 than in 2008, according to a report from the USA Today.

It’s no secret that the U.S. transportation system isn’t getting the funding it needs on local, state or federal levels. The nation’s roads now require about $85 billion annually for upkeep and improvements–nearly twice as much as what was spent in 2008.

As the amount of funds needed continues to climb, lawmakers are struggling to agree on a transportation budget and ways to fund it.

Meanwhile, commuters pay the price.

The Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) most recent data by TRIP and USA show that only 38 percent of roads in the U.S. are considered to be in “good” condition.

Kansas has the highest number of failing roads (those found to be in “poor” condition) at 52 percent, with Connecticut following close behind at nearly 48 percent. And another 25 states have at least 20 percent of roads in “poor” condition.

(The report includes a chart detailing the conditions of the bridges and roads in each state. Check it out here.)

The potholes, cracks and ruts that result from failing roads cost commuters in vehicle repairs and fuel and operating costs, while increased congestion and delayed freight transportation cost motorists and industries time and money.

And, in the worst cases, those failing transportation systems can pose safety hazards like flooding, the potential to collapse or even poor driving.

But for some roads, filling potholes and resurfacing pavement won’t fix the problem.

Interstate 70 in Missouri between Kansas City and St. Louis, for example, needs to be completely rebuilt. Missouri Department of Transportation spokesman Bob Brendel told the USA Today that the road was built in the 1950s and designed to last 20 years, so the original pavement on the stretch “is pretty much shot.”

However, rebuilding the road would cost $2 billion to $4 billion, and, like most states, Missouri doesn’t have that kind of road funding.

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FHWA told the USA Today that the road funding debate should focus on roads with heavier traffic rather than all roads, pointing out that the amount of travel on roads in good condition increased from 46 percent in 2008 to 48 percent in 2011. But the amount of travel on roads in poor conditions inched up as well, from 15 percent in 2008 to 15.3 percent in 2011.

Roads, of course, aren’t the only parts of the nation’s transportation system that are failing. USA Today’s report included FHWA data for bridges 20 feet or longer that showed about 11 percent of bridges are “structurally deficient” and 14 percent are “functionally obsolete.”

A structurally deficient bridge is one that requires “significant maintenance, rehabilitation or replacement” and must be inspected at least once a year, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

A bridge classified as functionally obsolete has an outdated design, which could mean the bridge has weight limits, narrow shoulders or a low clearance.

(Read Better Roads’ 2012 Bridge Inventory for more information about structurally deficient and functionally obsolete bridges in the U.S.)

FHWA told the USA Today that the terms “structurally deficient” and “functionally obsolete” do not reflect the safety of the bridges, and that the agency takes immediate action if a bridge is found to be unsafe.

Those terms do, however, reflect a lack of the transportation funding needed to keep the bridges updated.