2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure Get the full experience

Now Available for Your iPad

Save America's Instrastructure Pocket Guide - Get the best experience
2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure Get the full experience

Now Available for Your Android

2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure Get the full experience

Now Available for Your Android Tablet

America's GPA: D+
Estimated Investment Needed by 2020:
$3.6 Trillion

Author Archive

What VMT On The Rise Means for Roads

February 28th, 2017 | By: Laura Hale

U.S. motorists set a new record for vehicle miles travelled (VMT) in 2016, driving over 3.2 trillion miles, an increase of 70 billion miles from 2015. VMT has long been on the rise, save for a dip during the recession. With so many vehicles on the road, it is no surprise that congestion has also been on the rise. The Texas A&M Transportation Institute estimated in 2014 that Americans spent 6.9 billion hours stuck in traffic due to congestion for an average of 42 hours per commuter. All of that sitting in traffic wasted 3.1 billion gallons of fuel. The lost time and wasted fuel add up—the total cost of congestion in 2014 was $160 billion.  This is a substantial increase from 30 years prior when Americans lost 2.1 billion hours to congestion with an average of 20 hours per commuter and the total cost of congestion was only $48 billion (in 2014 dollars). Investment is badly needed to repair America’s roadways and improve their performance (our highways and bridges have a $836 billion backlog), but adding building more road will not solve congestion on its own. With the U.S. population expected to grow by over 70 million by 2050, policymakers need to think plan ahead and think broadly to prevent congestion from paralyzing our roads. They should begin tackling congestion today through policies and technologies that maximize the capacity of the existing road network and by creating an integrated, multimodal transportation system that focuses on mobility for people and goods.

No Comments »

Senate EPW Committee Examines How to Modernize America’s Infrastructure

February 9th, 2017 | By: Laura Hale

On Wednesday the Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee held its first oversight hearing of the 115th Congress (video available here) and new Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) started things off by making it clear where he stands on the proposal offered by President Trump’s campaign to use private investment to improve our nation’s infrastructure:
“Funding solutions that involve public-private partnerships, as have been discussed by administration officials, may be innovative solutions for crumbling inner cities, but do not work for rural areas….Public-private partnerships and other approaches to infrastructure investment that depend on a positive revenue stream from a project are not a surface transportation infrastructure solution for rural states.”
A panel of five state and local government officials representing Colorado, Delaware, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming appeared before the Committee and spoke about what their communities need from the federal government to modernize their infrastructure (written testimony available here). Cindy Bobbitt, Commissioner of Grant County, Oklahoma, emphasized that while public-private partnerships might not be a good fit for rural counties like hers, municipal bonds are. Ms. Bobbitt asked Congress to protect tax-exempt municipal bonds. (A bit of background: Republican leadership has declared tax reform a top priority in this Congress and is planning a broad overhaul of the tax code. State and local governments, which rely on municipal bonds to finance infrastructure and community projects, fear that the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds could be changed. Stakeholders, including ASCE, have joined together to ask Congress to protect tax-exempt municipal bonds.) William Panos, Director of the Wyoming Department of Transportation, drew the Committee’s attention to the fact that the increased spending levels authorized by the FAST Act (enacted December 2015) have yet to take effect. Because Congress has not passed a FY17 spending bill (despite the federal fiscal year 2017 beginning October 1, 2016) and instead kept the government open via two Continuing Resolutions (CRs), funding for surface transportation is still at FY16’s (i.e. pre-FAST Act) authorized levels. Mr. Panos said the use of repeated CRs “restricts our ability to plan for future projects and in our state we’re working with our state legislature now and we needed to ask for twice the amount of borrowing authority we would have otherwise” to be able to cover cashflow needs in the face of federal funding uncertainty. Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) also took the opportunity to highlight the fact that Wyoming raised its gas tax by 10 cents in 2013, while the federal gas tax has not been raised since 1993 and the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money in 2020 without Congressional action. Next week has more transportation-related hearings in store. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee’s Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety and Security will hold a hearing on stakeholder perspectives on a multimodal transportation. The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection will hold a hearing on the road to deployment of driverless cars.  

No Comments »

House T&I Committee Examines How to Build a 21st Century Infrastructure

February 2nd, 2017 | By: Laura Hale

Yesterday the House Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) Committee held a hearing titled “Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America.” It was the Committee’s first hearing in the 115th Congress and came on the heels of both President Trump’s pledge to focus on infrastructure and a trillion dollar infrastructure investment blueprint previewed by Senate Democrats last week. The panel of witnesses represented private industry (FedEx, Cargill, BMW and Vermeer) that relies on the country’s vast infrastructure networks, with the exception of Richard Trumka, President of AFL-CIO, whose union members build, maintain and operate much of the nation’s infrastructure. Getting the hearing off to a fiery start was Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-4th OR), who picked up right where he left off last Congress—emphasizing the need to fix the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund (HMTF) (a bit of background…in December of last year Rep. DeFazio gave an impassioned speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives during votes on the Water Resources Development Act, criticizing the final bill for not including language to spend down funds collected by the HMTF). Rep. DeFazio laid out three key areas he wants the Committee to focus on this year: indexing the gas tax to inflation, spending the existing $9 billion in the HMTF that has been used to offset a portion of the deficit and raising the cap on passenger facility charges for airports. Members of the Committee and witnesses agreed that these were important issues. David MacLennan, Chairman and CEO of Cargill, reminded legislators not to get carried away by dazzling new innovations like electric cars, microgrids and high-speed rail saying “As exciting as new technologies are, we should also think about our traditional assets. So the remainder of my testimony will focus not on the shiny objects, but on the ones that tend to get rusty: the rails, roads, bridges and waterways of rural America.” The panelists also all spoke about the importance of the federal government providing real funding to infrastructure projects, not just financing. Frederick W. Smith, Chairman and CEO of FedEx even went so far to say that he had been testifying in the T&I Committee room for 40 years and was ready to see real infrastructure investment. The Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee is expected to hold its own hearing examining infrastructure challenges and opportunities soon.

No Comments »

The FAST Act Turns One, But The Work’s Not Done

December 5th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

This Sunday was the one year anniversary of the signing of the FAST Act, the five-year federal surface transportation authorization. The law authorizes federal funding for highways, bridges, transit systems and railroads. The passage of the FAST Act was a victory for proponents of infrastructure and everyday Americans who use it. It provided a small increase in funding and was the first long-term authorization bill in years, which provides states the certainty to plan and build projects. However, the passage of the FAST Act did not mean Congress can be done with transportation infrastructure until 2020. Even with the increase in federal funding the FAST Act provided, the nation’s surface transportation system (its roads, bridges, rail and transit) is in need of repair and we’re investing less than half of what’s needed. In May of this year, ASCE released an economic study examining the nation’s investment in infrastructure and its economic consequences. The study found the U.S. was on track to invest about $940 million in surface transportation over the next decade (from all levels of government and the private sector), leaving a $1.1 trillion gap. This underinvestment will have a cascading impact on the nation’s economy, impacting productivity, GDP, employment, personal income, international competitiveness and, most importantly, public safety. Every year this investment gap, along with that of other infrastructure categories, is not addressed it will cost American families $3,400. A large part of the problem is there has not been enough federal funding available for surface transportation infrastructure. The Highway Trust Fund (HTF) is supposed to fund the federal government’s investments in roads, bridges and transit, but an insufficient revenue stream has limited these investments. The HTF is primarily funded by the federal motor fuels tax of 18.4 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24.4 on diesel. The tax has not been raised since 1993 and inflation has decreased its real value by 40%. To make up for the shortfall, Congress has been diverting general fund dollars into the HTF since 2008. Congress failed to provide the HTF a sustainable funding source in the FAST Act and instead relied once again on a general fund transfer. In order to fix the country’s existing infrastructure and build new infrastructure to meet the needs of our growing and evolving nation, the U.S. needs to treat infrastructure spending as an investment in its future. This must include providing the HTF a reliable and sufficient revenue source so the U.S. can get to work fixing and modernizing its roads, bridges and transit systems. Experience shows that it will take time to deliberate the best course of action and build consensus, so the 115th Congress will need to start working right away on fixing the trust fund, rather than waiting until the authorization runs out. Every day they delay, deteriorating infrastructure costs American families.

No Comments »

More Americans Dying on Roads

September 21st, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

Last year, 35,092 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes in the United States, which averages out to 96 people per day. This represents a 7.2% increase in deaths from 2014, the largest percentage increase since 1966. While Americans drove more in 2015 than 2014 and statistically the more people drive, the more crashes there will be, the frequency of traffic fatalities also went up. Fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT) increased to 1.12 in 2015 from 1.08 in 2014. The number and frequency of deaths due to motor vehicle crashes in the U.S. has gone down over the last 50 years, but the recent rise is cause for serious concern. fatalitiesSource: NHTSA Eighteen percent of 2015’s traffic fatalities were pedestrians and bicyclists. Both of these roadway user categories saw a substantial increase in their fatality rates from 2014 to 2015 (+9.5% for pedestrians and +12.2% for bicyclists). These deaths underscore the importance of communities incorporating “complete streets,” which are designed and operated for the safety and convenience of all users. The reduction in traffic fatalities over the last 50 years is frequently credited to a combination of vehicle improvements, such as air bags and electronic stability control, and behavioral changes, such as increased seat belt use and reduced drunk driving, but it is important to remember the impact roadway infrastructure itself can have. Improvements in road design (such as adding shoulder rumble strips, guard rails and medians, widening lanes/shoulders and more visible road markings), road materials (such as high friction surface treatments) and road operation (such as improved traffic signal timing) can all make roads safer and reduce traffic deaths. The Federal Highway Administration’s Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) collects data, performs research and provides funding to states for strategic, data-driven roadway improvements with the goal of significantly reducing traffic fatalities and serious injuries on public roads. The program was reauthorized last year in the FAST Act and given a small budget increase. With traffic fatalities rising, the HSIP will be more important than ever and should be continued and expanded. The White House and the Department of Transportation are inviting tech companies, universities and even the general public to analyze crash data and help determine the causes of the surge in traffic fatalities. The White House released a statement saying, “The journey toward zero deaths on our roads will be a long one, but data will provide the guiding lights to take us there.”

No Comments »

With Gas Prices Low, Congress Has Opportunity to #FixTheTrustFund

August 8th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

Last month’s average gas price in the U.S. was the lowest for July since 2004. Cheap gas coupled with an improved economy is spurring Americans to drive more. After a decrease during the recession, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is climbing again. Summer is the busiest time on U.S. roads and many drivers will find themselves stuck in traffic, whether they’re headed to work or the beach. In 2014, Americans spent 6.9 billion hours sitting in traffic (42 hours per driver). The wasted time and gas add up—the total cost of congestion in 2014 was $160 billion ($960 per driver).

vmt 4Estimated VMT based on traffic volume trends. Federal Highway Administration.

A major contributor to congestion is the underinvestment into our road network. According to AASHTO, there is a $629 billion backlog of highway needs. For the federal government and most states, taxes on gasoline and diesel are the primary funding source for highways, but the tax rates frequently have not been raised in years, sometimes decades. Many states are considering plans to raise their fuel taxes to increase their investment in highway infrastructure and last year nine states actually did it. Despite these tax increases, the price drivers pay at the pump has continued to go down—one study by ARTBA even shows that a gas tax increase does not have a direct impact on the price at the pump. Federal lawmakers unfortunately have not followed their lead. The federal Highway Trust Fund has been flirting with insolvency since 2008 because its primary funding source, an 18.4 cent per gallon tax on gasoline and a 24.4 cent per gallon tax on diesel, has not been raised since 1993. Inflation has cut its real value by 40%. The fund has been propped up by $140 billion in transfers from the general fund. In order to ensure adequate and stable funding for America’s highways, the Trust Fund needs a sustainable funding source. The most direct and immediate way to #FixTheTrustFund is to increase the tax on gas and diesel a sufficient amount at the federal level to stop the need for general fund transfers and allow for increased investment to address the backlog.  Meanwhile, there should be additional pilot programs to test charging motorists based on how much they use roads with the long-term goal of using mileage-based user fees to fund the federal highway trust fund to prepare for the future. It’s time for Congress to step up and #FixTheTrustFund.

No Comments »

TIGER Grants: They’re Grrrrrreat!

August 4th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

Last Friday the U.S. Department of Transportation announced the 40 projects that will share $485 million in TIGER grants in FY16. This is the eighth round of TIGER grants (properly called the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program). The program was authorized as a part of the 2009 recovery act to support innovative projects that are difficult to fund through traditional federal programs. Since the program is paid for from the general fund, not one of the user-fee supported transportation trust funds, it can be used for projects of any transportation mode and this year’s batch of grants includes a number of intermodal projects. This year’s grants award $193 million to highway and bridge projects, $97 million to pedestrian and bicycle paths, $93 million to transit projects, $54 million to maritime infrastructure and $47 million to freight and passenger rail projects. TIGER grants are highly competitive. There were 585 applicants requesting more than $9.3 billion, demonstrating the significant transportation investment needs in our country. The majority of this’s years’ recipients had applied for TIGER grants in previous years. Although the TIGER program is popular on both sides of the aisle, its future is not assured. As a discretionary program, it is subject to appropriation process each year. Over its eight-year history, the TIGER program has incentivized innovation in communities of all sizes and spurred local and private investment. This year’s $485 million federal investment will support $1.74 billion in overall transportation projects. To see who will be receiving TIGER grants and learn about the projects, go here.

No Comments »

Inaugural Round of FASTLANE Grant Recipients Released

July 13th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

The U.S. Department of Transportation provided to Congress last week the list of 18 recipients of the first annual round of FASTLANE grants. The FASTLANE program was authorized by the FAST Act to fund critical freight and highway projects of national or regional significance. The grants can be used for highway, port, freight rail and intermodal projects. The FAST Act authorized $4.5 billion in funding for the FASTLANE program for fiscal years 2016-2020, with 25 percent reserved for rural projects, and 10 percent for smaller projects. While this investment is a great kick-start for the 18 recipient projects, the application process calls attention to the need to increase investment in our infrastructure as $10 billion worth of projects were requested, while only about a tenth of that was able to be funded. U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Reps. Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR), chairman and ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee released a statement saying:
“The demand for the FASTLANE program has already far exceeded expectations, receiving 212 applications for projects totaling roughly $10 billion, more than 10 times the available amount. This program is an important achievement of the FAST Act, and the response illustrates how critical freight and highway investments are to improving the movement of goods and reducing congestion.”
The Fast Act provides for five years of certainty on the federal level for transportation projects, and the FASTLANE Grant program exemplifies the benefits that can happen when we make the investment. However, long-term funding looms large, as Congress still needs to #FixTheTrustFund with a sustainable funding source. Click on any project to learn more about it:
AZ: I-10 Phoenix-Tucson Corridor Improvements
CA: SR 11 Segment 2 and Southbound Connectors
DC: Arlington Memorial Bridge Reconstruction Project
FL: Truck Parking Availability System
GA: Port of Savannah International Multi-Modal Corridor
IA: Cedar Rapids Logistics Park
ID: US 95 North Corridor Access Intermodal Project
LA: I-10 Freight CoRE
MA: Conley Terminal Intermodal Improvements/ Modernization
ME: Maine Intermodal Port Productivity Project
NY: I-390/I-490/Rt. 31 Interchange, Lyell Avenue Corridor
NY: Cross Harbor Freight Program (Rail)
OK: US 69/75 Bryan County
OR: Coos Bay Rail Line – Tunnel Rehabilitation Project
VA: Atlantic Gateway: Partnering to Unlock I-95 Corridor
WA South Lander St. Grade Separation /Railroad Safety Project
WA Strander Blvd. Extension and Grade Separation Phase 3
WI I-39/90 Corridor Project

No Comments »

Happy 60th Birthday, Interstate Highway System!

June 29th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

Sixty years ago today President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 and in doing so created the Interstate Highway System. President Eisenhower explained the necessity of an interstate system in a 1955 statement to Congress:
“Together, the uniting forces of our communication and transportation systems are dynamic elements in the very name we bear—United States. Without them, we would be a mere alliance of many separate parts.”
Now encompassing 47,000 miles of roadway, the Interstate Highway System runs through all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Interstates have transformed the way we move goods and people in the U.S. In 1919, then Lt. Colonel Eisenhower traveled in an 80 vehicle military convoy from Washington, DC to San Francisco. The trip took 62 days, inspiring him to create the system. Today that drive could be completed in about three days. The Interstate Highway System cost approximately $500 billion (in 2016 dollars) to build, but America’s investment has paid off, literally. The system has returned more than $6 in economic productivity for each $1 it cost. Today’s America would have been unimaginable to President Eisenhower and the country will likely change in ways we can’t now fathom in the next 60 years. Whatever the future holds, the one thing that’s always needed is money. Funding for the Interstate Highway System has been flat for years, allowing for basic maintenance but little innovation. At current funding levels, it will be impossible for the interstate system to modernize and meet the needs of our growing country. In order to invest sufficiently in the Interstate Highway System, Congress needs to overhaul its federal funding source—the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). The HTF is primarily funded by an 18.4 cent per gallon tax on gasoline. This rate has not been increased since 1993, meaning inflation has cut its value by 40% over the last 23 years.  As advancements in fuel efficiency continue, drivers will need to buy gas less often, further reducing the HTF’s income. As electric vehicles catch on, drivers will pay almost no taxes to maintain the roads and bridges they drive on. We’ll need a new way to take in the user fees for the Highway Trust Fund in the coming decades. One alternative funding mechanism is a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) fee. This fee would be assessed on each vehicle owner based on how many miles they’ve driven. Some proposals call for varying the fee so that heavier vehicles like semi-trucks (which do more damage to roads) would pay more. Mileage-based fees are currently being tested in several states. VMT fees could provide stable revenue for the HTF, which in turn would allow for adequate investment in the future of the Interstate Highway System. Happy birthday, Interstate Highway System! We wouldn’t be here without you.

No Comments »

House Passes Resolution Limiting Options to Fix the Highway Trust Fund

June 10th, 2016 | By: Laura Hale

Today the U.S. House of Representatives passed H. Con. Res. 112, a resolution introduced by Rep. Boustany (R-LA) and co-sponsored by 11 Republicans expressing Congress’ opposition to new fees on oil. As yesterday’s blog post highlighted, this resolution may be non-binding, but it puts Congress on the record in opposition to a viable option for fixing the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). Because the gas tax rate has not kept up with inflation, the HTF has been on the brink of insolvency many times in the past several years. Instead of addressing the HTF’s long-term solvency problem, Congress has relied on general funds transfers for the past eight years to prop up the fund, including most recently in the FAST Act. Rep. DeFazio (D-OR), ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, spoke passionately in opposition to the resolution. In under 24 hours, over 200 advocates responded to ASCE’s action alert and contacted their representatives in opposition to H. Con. Res. 112. Along with 30 coalition partners, ASCE sent a letter to Congress opposing the resolution. Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) read extensively from the letter in his remarks on the House floor. As a concurrent resolution, H. Con. Res. 112 will pass over the Senate for debate and vote. It remains to be seen if that body will pick up the measure.  

No Comments »

Help Save America's Infrastructure!
Hide Buttons