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The collapse of the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River in Washington State has sparked a number of conversations about infrastructure spending in the United States.
Though the Skagit River Bridge was only considered functionally obsolete rather than structurally deficient (meaning it was built to older standards but not necessarily unsafe), some reports point to the collapse as a call for more dedicated infrastructure spending, while others argue the incident had nothing to do with infrastructure investment. And some simply say we need to continue talking about it.
With all the chatter about infrastructure funding, The Washington Post reported that infrastructure spending in the U.S. has plummeted in the past five years.
In fact, according to a report from Business Insider, total public construction spending in 2013 hit its lowest mark in more than 20 years, and highway and road construction spending has also experienced a major drop-off. The highway and road data only extends back to 2002; the major decline in spending began in 2009.
WaPo’s report points to the most recent recession as the main cause of the drop in spending. Most states cut back on transportation and infrastructure funding around 2008, with California’s transportation budget declining 31 percent between 2007 and 2009 and Texas cutting back 8 percent in the same period.
While states slowed their spending, Congress did not compensate enough. Despite the $46 billion in federal funds dedicated to transportation spending in the stimulus bill, transportation spending in most states continued to decline.
In addition to sparking talks about spending, the I-5 collapse has given some industry groups a platform for discussing an urgency in fixing roads and bridges. WaPo previously reported that Congress can borrow money for low rates for now and that fixing roads and bridges sooner rather than later saves money.
The collapse will also likely push more discussions about reauthorization.
As for the Skaigit River Bridge: the Washington State Department of Transportation has plans to use its $1 million in funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation toward repairs for the collapsed portion of the bridge.