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Report: US Infrastructure Funding 'Not Dire'

Thursday, December 14, 2017

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It’s common knowledge that infrastructure in the United States is in shambles and needs a major boost in order to get the nation up to standard—or is it? A new report from policy think tank RAND walks back some of the hype over the nation’s transportation and water-system problems, saying that while problems exist, the situation is “not dire.”

The new report, “Not Everything Is Broken: The Future of U.S. Transportation and Water Infrastructure Funding and Finance,” was undertaken to better understand why infrastructure needs are not being met, and what the best ways to address the problems are.

Bridge construction
© / nastasic

A new report from RAND concludes that while there are problems with infrastructure spending in the U.S., the idea that funding is in a "precipitous decline" is exaggerated. 

The researchers’ conclusion? Funding and spending on infrastructure maintenance and upgrades in the U.S. on the whole aren’t in a “precipitous decline,” though locales with declining tax bases face issues keeping up quality roads and water systems. Areas where the economy in general is healthy tend to have infrastructure that is “well maintained and modernized.”

There are sore spots, though: As anyone involved in transportation knows, the federal Highway Trust Fund has been underfunded for years, and many cities’ water systems are not operating sustainably. And, RAND notes, big infrastructure projects that span multiple jurisdictions have proven difficult to administer efficiently.

RAND Recommendations 

As President Donald J. Trump and Congress reportedly prepare to roll out a major infrastructure funding plan early next year, the RAND report offers a number of recommendations the think tank says will help to ensure infrastructure success for the country. These include:

  • Preserving tax-exempt municipal bonds and bringing back Build America Bonds with taxable interest in order to draw investment to infrastructure;
  • Looking toward alternative ways to raise funds for infrastructure work, such as mileage-based fees that directly correlate highway funding with highway use;
  • Prioritizing maintenance of federal assets including levees, locks and dams and national parks; and
  • Prioritizing the most important long-term projects rather than rushing “shovel-ready” projects that may be quicker to get off the ground but provide less long-term benefits.

RAND notes in the report that advances in construction materials and methods could help to change the way the country approaches maintenance of critical infrastructure. Smart roads and technology such as sensors that report on the structural condition of bridges, if prioritized, could ultimately make maintenance more efficient and less costly.

Water treatment plant
© / cylonphoto

RAND says water systems in many locales are not operating sustainably.

The report also explores the idea of resilience in relation to changing climatic conditions; roads and bridges are already in some cases being built up higher in elevation or altitude in order to offset the effects of a higher floodplain. Anticipating the effects of climate change will be important in the coming years in order to ensure that infrastructure spending is not wasted.

Spending Stable

The RAND researchers conclude that funding for transportation infrastructure has remained largely stable over the past 60 years; private investment has increased slightly, and while federal money has declined, state and local governments have made up for it. Federal efforts at infrastructure maintenance and upgrades, the report notes, are “unfocused and fragmented” and could benefit from more centralized prioritization.

And in what could be an important point as Congress devises an infrastructure plan next year, RAND says private investment in infrastructure is an area that has proven thorny in the U.S. thus far. In order to attract private dollars, projects generally must be lower in risk and high in profit, and not every important infrastructure project fits that bill; larger projects generally carry more risk. Lawmakers, the think tank says, must balance the desire to attract private capital with the need to protect taxpayers from financial risk.

The entire report can be read here


Tagged categories: Construction; Funding; Government; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Program/Project Management

Comment from peter gibson, (12/14/2017, 11:26 AM)

RAND contends that it is not dire.With that thinking we are in the state that we are. Put it all off until it falls down. Come on RAND...really now.

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