Infrastructure

Highways and Bridges Are Not Crumbling

Washington isn’t helping, so let states take the lead.

|

Politicians and interest groups claim America's highways and bridges are falling apart— "crumbling," we're sometimes told. My efforts to assess the situation suggest they are not. Others—including researchers from the Federal Reserve and the National Bureau of Economic Research—have drawn similar conclusions. Yet the new "bipartisan infrastructure bill" plows ahead with the same old sound bites and spending plans.

Even if it all passes, in five years, again, expect to hear cries for more spending to solve our phantom highway and bridge crisis. It is long past time to shift more of the responsibility for highways and bridges to the states, where the costs and benefits to users can be better evaluated.

Using an objective and standard engineering measure of highway surface conditions provided by the Department of Transportation, I calculated, conservatively, the percentage of highways and roads in poor condition in each state in 2014 and 2018 (the most recent data available). In contrast to broad general statements about crumbling infrastructure, the data show only modest changes during this period.

Rural and urban interstates showed small improvements. In 2018, less than 2 percent of rural and 4.5 percent of urban interstates were in poor condition. About 3.5 percent of rural freeways (which are not interstates) and less than 6 percent of rural "main roads" were in poor condition. Main roads in urban areas remain the biggest problem, with about 23 percent in poor condition, but even this shows a small improvement from 2014.

Still, large differences between states remain. For example, in 2018, New Hampshire and Arizona had less than 1 and 2 percent of urban interstates in poor condition, respectively. Hawaii and California had nearly 20 and 8 percent in poor condition. We can observe similar state differences in other highways and roads, in both urban and rural areas.

Furthermore, using Department of Transportation data based on annual inspections of bridges, I was able to compare bridge conditions in 2019 (the most recent data available) to 2014. The percent rated to be in poor shape declined from a little over 7 percent in 2014 to about 6 percent in 2019. Overall, bridges in the United States have improved, but as with roads, differences across states remain. In 2019, only 1 percent of Nevada's bridges were in poor condition, while Illinois had more than 12 percent in poor condition.

Given the formula-based allocation of federal dollars—each state receives at least 95 percent of federal fuel taxes collected within its borders—federal funding will do little to reduce these state differences. Politicians in states where highways and bridges are in good condition will not be willing to give up federal funds to help other states. They will argue for their "fair" share of federal fuel and general tax revenues.

While it is easy to find examples of infrastructure in need of work in a nation as large as ours, the data simply do not show that highway and road surfaces are deteriorating quickly. The share of bridges in poor shape has declined. In fact, this is true going back to 2005. These figures do not paint a picture of crumbling highways and bridges.

Congress should ditch the highway portion of the plan and instead shift all regional and local highway and bridge maintenance (and construction) responsibilities back to the states and cities. The federal government would continue to maintain national highways and the interstate highway system.

Each state can set a fuel tax sufficient to fund its own highway and bridge work. The federal fuel tax should be set at a level to fund the continued maintenance, and as needed, the expansion of interstate and national highways in growing areas of the country. The federal fuel tax could thus be lowered to fund the smaller federal transportation responsibilities.

Washington politicians prefer to paint a dark picture of America's infrastructure. This way, not only can they take credit for sending federal funds to support projects in their states, but they can run for reelection as someone working to solve the country's phantom highway and bridge crisis.

NEXT: James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad Is a Movie About Being Canceled (by a Giant Starfish Monster)

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The last paragraph says it all. And the local media is very happy to run items about “Congressman so and so fought for us to include $xxx million in funds to improve the Little Used Bridge over Trickle Creek.”

    1. Unless it’s congressman(R) who’s building a bridge to nowhere.

      1. there’s literally dozens (hundreds?) of bridges to no where, trains to no one, light rail to nowhere.

        And yet all people remember is one republican pushing a stupid bridge once. They they ignore roads in disrepair in democrat areas so that the lib fucks can have a shiny new light rail that no one takes

        1. The dirty secret was that it was actually a bridge to somewhere, namely the Ketchikan airport.

          1. My last pay test was $9500 operating 12 hours per week on line. my sisters buddy has been averaging 15k for months now and she works approximately 20 hours every week. i can not accept as true with how easy it become as soon as i tried it out. This is what do,…………… READ MORE

            1. Fantastic work-from-home opportunity for everyone… Work for three to eight a day and start getting paid inSd the range of 17,000-19,000 dollars a month… Weekly payments Learn More details Good luck…

              See……………VISIT HERE

          2. Why is it that no one remembers that fact. Is it that dem/lib/socialists control the madia??

            1. Fantastic work-from-home 0pportunity for every0ne… Work for three t0 eight a day and start getting paid inSFDd the range of 17,000-19,000 dollars a month… Weekly payments Learn More details Good luck…

              See……………VISIT HERE

  2. they can run for reelection as someone working to solve the country’s phantom highway and bridge crisis.

    Let’s be real, they’re pretty all phantom crises, with very few exceptions.

  3. We all know the “infrastructure” bill is just the marxist green new deal in disguise, with more to come.

    That RINOs are pushing for it is a clear sign they need to be primaried out in their next election.

    Sadly even if the GOP is in the majority there are enough RINO whiners and faux conservatives around to push for this bullshit. In addition they will try to gin up a new reason for another war to line their pockets.

    1. A war? Guaranteed. But it will not be a foreign war. As a totalitarian regime steadily loses the ability to project force outwardly, it will turn inward — and unleash the oppressive tools of war upon its own people. Should states begin to buck federal diktats, and steadily construct parallel societies increasingly divorced from the handwringers in Washington, D.C., expect armed conflict to follow shortly thereafter.

      Things are relatively cold … for now. But in another five to ten years? This country as we know it today is toast.

      1. States need to focus on their state guards. 27 state guards are still active, if I remember correctly. Florida’s is inactive. They need to fix that.

      2. 5 years will be too late

      3. Look for Commiefornia to begin the hot war. Highest gas tax, income tax and property taxes ever. And they keep tacking em on. Now that a recall of newsome is emminent giant 5 foot x 8 foot signs are cropping up all over touting ” your tax dollars at work” as they chip the top 2 inchs from the roads and then paint them with a black top slurry.

        1. It isn’t REPAIRING the roads. It’ what the military calls “painting it black”.

    2. Indeed. Over 2,000+ pages worth of Green New Deal including a new tax on miles driven by car owners.
      This infrastructure bill needs to be tossed into a dumpster and burned.

  4. So why does a wealthy state like California have urban freeways in such bad shape?

    1. Because Gas tax revenue meant for roads is siphoned off to subsidize people who ride their bullshit public transportation and don’t pay the tax instead.

      There’s more than enough money for roads, they just divert it away because they want roads to be bad so you are forced to ride the choo choo trains and light rail. They purposely want traffic to be bad as a way of punishing you for not doing what they want.

      And the idiots who live here keep voting these people in

      1. I believe California’s highways are some of the most dangerous roads in the country.
        Not just physical condition but dangerous from the standpoint of horrid drivers.

        1. You will get no argument from me.

          Whenever I have a family or friend who starts driving, I tell them “Remember, everyone is an idiot, and they are all out to hit you”

          Always have a way out from them

        2. Come to Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts and you’ll change your tune. Drivers in CA (the last time I was there, 2014) were knowledgeable of the rules of the road, seemed to follow them, and were generally polite. By comparison, the term “Masshole” is quite appropriate for the local drivers: stupid, arrogant and rude. And even worse on Cape Cod where there is an assinine manouver where a driver going down a road at 40 miles and hour stops short to let someone in or to have someone in the opposing lane turn in from of him – and then gets pissy when you won’t cut him off. Try explaining to one of these jerks that they are not just wrong, but dangerous, and they get angry at you.

          CA sucks in general, but your drivers are better.

          1. “Drivers in CA (the last time I was there, 2014) were knowledgeable of the rules of the road,” That was before they started importing south of the border denizens and letting them obtain driver licences without learning to read or speak english.

          2. California has a major problem with street racing, that has killed and maimed people in the process.
            People drive down urban streets at 70-80 MPH.
            Just check out LoudLabs news/https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGRotpJAtI-mXNyNFBYaSAw and it’s one car crash after another many times due to excessive speed.

      2. California is literally reducing lanes in cites to force more traffic to get people on bikes. No thanks

        1. Oh, Great. Just when it wasn’t dangerous enough for pedestrians add bicyclists to the mix. Then of course they will have to battle the homeless, mentally ill, drug addicts.
          Sounds like more fun in the sun.
          At least Venice Beach is being cleaned up…somewhat.

          1. Maybe but it still has the bicyclists who think they have the right of way over both pedestrians and autos.

  5. Even if it all passes, in five years, again, expect to hear cries for more spending to solve our phantom highway and bridge crisis.

    Faith based politics naturally give rise to supernatural levels of faith based graft. We have in this country about as much of an infrastructure problem as we do a white supremacy problem. Pablum for the faithful; money for the priests.

    1. Well expect to spend more money on bullshit progressive goals, like a bullet train to south california that no one will ride and will cost more than a plane ticket and take longer.

      Highway 5 from Northern to Southern California is still only 2 lanes though. Imagine that

      1. How many billions spent on that bullet train to nowhere?

        1. Too many billion to count.

          Also, this is illegal, but a judge said fuck it. The proposition my fellow idiots voted for because “well if it can’t meet the speed or cost targets it won’t happen!”

          Then it was revealed it won’t and a judge said whatever do it anyway.

          https://www.cagw.org/thewastewatcher/californias-100-billion-nightmare-high-speed-rail-project

      2. So is 101, 99 and 395. Just remember Pelosis’ husband and shirttail family members, the newsomes, are major stock holders in the construction company that receives the majority of funds spent by the state and the federal govt’s

  6. “Holy underwear! We’ve gotta protect our phoney baloney jobs, gentlemen.”

    1. Harrumph!

      1. “I didn’t get a ‘Harumph’ from the whole Reason Commentariat! You watch your ass!”

    2. North of Grand Rapids, MI. on U.S. 131 a section of the road and overpass was rebuilt.
      Now get this: As per the great omnipotent all seeing visiers in Lansing and due to influence from both the concrete and asphalt lobbyists, one section of the new surface had to be in concrete and the other section with asphalt.
      So the new road surface was in both .
      How’s that for corruption.
      Who knows, maybe Hoffa is buried somewhere underneath.

  7. The most sexual comment said on a road resurfacing job: time to grind the hot top in his ass fault.

    1. The most sexual comment

      Most obvious double entendre maybe. Not even in the top 100 most sexual.

      1. Depends on how fabulous district of the City is.

  8. Politicians friends and relatives are “infrastructure” too.

    1. Onh, so that’s the “human infrastructure” Nancy Lugosi was talking about.

  9. It is long past time to shift more of the responsibility for privatize highways and bridges to the states, where the costs and benefits to users can be better evaluated.

    FTFY.

    1. I’ll say one thing; My electrical bill is a Co-op private company and our electricity is the cheapest one around.

  10. It seems you, like many others, have confused union featherbedding jobs programs with actually needed construction and repair of roads and bridges. There is a reason why most of the money goes to democratically ruled urban areas.

    1. “”goes to democratically ruled urban areas.””

      goes to {democrat} ruled urban areas. There I fixed it for you.
      They truly are NOT DEMOCRATIC!!!!

  11. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka dead at 72

    One less snout at the feeding trough.

    1. It’s just next man up.

    2. Was he buried next to Hoffa?

  12. While we can argue about the size and location there is a need to address infrastructure. I have seen far to much use of borrowing money for this work. Raising money at a state level is problematic. There is a real reluctance to raise fuel taxes to accommodate the needs and this is almost worse at the state level.

    1. Duh. No one wants to pay for it themselves. And why should they if they don’t have to? They just don’t understand that at the same time, they’re paying for someone else’s stuff, and while “money” might might appear out of thin air as if by magic, real wealth does not.

    2. “…Raising money at a state level is problematic. There is a real reluctance to raise fuel taxes to accommodate the needs and this is almost worse at the state level…”

      Perhaps if it weren’t pissed away on bicycle lanes and mass-transit boondoggles, it wouldn’t be so difficult.

    3. In a state the size and population of Californexico every gallon of gas is taxed at or near 80 cents a gallon. The gas tax is a HUGE pile of money the democrat overlords use to bribe major unions with and feed , educate and house ILLEGAL ALIENS instead of spending the funds on what they are intended, ROAD AND HIWAY REPAIRS in other words infrastructure!!!

  13. The only thing that is always shovel-ready is the pile of federal dollars.

  14. No talk about the Jones Act?

    Repeal that abomination and a shitload of shipping will move from asphalt to water. Take a bunch of those heavy trucks off the roads and bridges, and I bet they’ll last a lot longer.

    1. I’ve been on roads where deep valleys have been pushed into the road surface from so many semis and other heavy trucking.

    2. Is the U.S. so incompetent now they can’t even ship their own goods along the coasts without china parts, a china crew and owned by china??

      While your correct the law is B.S. and should be repealed. The fact you think ‘china’ will save our roads is a whole other discussion of the crumbling USA.

      1. War with the PRC is coming, hot or cold, one way or another, it’s coming. The sooner we start acting accordingly, the greater chance that the west wins, or at least survives.

        1. China, thanks to Bidets butt buddy the obama, is the only country providing enough rare earth ores to manufacture the batteries used in the soon to be mandated electric vehicles by Joe Bidet. This proposal would have been sooner but President Trump derailed the socialists plan by shoving the Clinton off the stage.

  15. Doesn’t matter. Gimme. More. Money.

    1. And after every student was given an A+ due to equality concerns they all settled for being stupid and living conditions plummeted.

  16. I immediately disregard anything someone has to say when they use the term “crumbling infrastructure” unironically. It’s nothing more than idiotic marketing that dumb seals clap to.

    It’s the same way that the teachers union in CA every election cycle complains about “budget cuts”, since getting only a 4% increase when you wanted 5% is a “cut”

  17. Try driving up here in Northern Michigan sometime. I can take you on roads that you wouldn’t want to go any faster than 5MPH.
    It takes years to get any road improvements into motion.
    The portion of U.S. 31 south of Charlevoix, MI. had been in need to rehab for over two decades and is just now being rebuilt.
    Total cost for 7 miles of rehab: $13.5 million.

  18. A real man will be honest no matter how painful the truth is. A coward hides behind lies and deceit
    https://ketuvibes.com/

  19. Highways and Bridges Are Not Crumbling

    Obviously, he’s never rode on I-85, I-77, or the entirety of North and South Carolina.

    1. He has , though, driven on the 405, 5, 101, 10 and 210 in Socal. so he is just lying. I have been driving since 1957 and Californexicos roads have deteriorated so much it should be criminal.

  20. Call it crumblesurgegate

  21. How does Hawaii have interstate highways in poor condition?

    Heck…

    How does Hawaii have interstate highways?

  22. Highways and Bridges Are Not Crumbling
    Washington isn’t helping, so let states take the lead.

    Oh, this is so cute: Krol thinks infrastructure funding is about infrastructure!

    Infrastructure funding is about paying off unions, donors, and businesses with ties to the Democrats, nothing more. “Letting states take the lead” wouldn’t be very effective now for paying off the people who got Biden elected, would it?

    1. “”Krol thinks infrastructure funding is about infrastructure!””
      Of course he does he is a Californexico educator.

  23. In theory gas taxes are supposed to pay for federal highways. We know the lie and it all goes into the general fund. It should be as easy as calculating the total received and then use that budget to prioritize which bridges to fix, what congested roads need additional lanes etc. The budget would be set and the only debate is prioritizing the projects.

    1. The gas tax doesn’t really work anymore and will work even less as larger numbers of the automobile fleet converts to electric vehicles. We need to think of transitioning to a better type of user fee. Best is a mileage fee paid monthly or yearly.

      As for prioritizing there is a political component to this that has to be addressed. Powerful politicians at the state and federal level can demand attention for their district even when that district does not have as many roads or a large population. It would be nice to have a nonpartisan bureaucratic plan drafted and then make the politicians react to that, rather than make the bureaucrats react to the politicians.

      1. The gas tax doesn’t really work anymore and will work even less as larger numbers of the automobile fleet converts to electric vehicles.

        The total number of electric vehicles sold in the US is 1.4 million, and most of those in California (due to their insane subsidies) and are used for short trips. There are nearly 300 million vehicles registered in the US. In other words, electric vehicles are negligible.

        And the idea that the US is going to have large numbers of electric vehicles on the road any time soon is a fairy tale.

        We need to think of transitioning to a better type of user fee.

        We already have user fees on many highways, in addition to the gas tax.

        Best is a mileage fee paid monthly or yearly.

        Yeah, great idea! Universal GPS tracking of all vehicles so that the government can raise taxes it doesn’t need, justified by a problem that doesn’t exist.

        You’re a great advocate… for an authoritarian police state.

      2. Hey mod4ever, How about a tax on owners of green vehicles equal to the amount of gas taxes. That should keep the “infrastructure” in fine fettle for the foreseeable future.

  24. I thought States, Counties and Cities were in charge of roads.
    When did that change?

    1. The feds will just hand them the money they ask for. The whole system is rigged for political and business cronyism.

      Sure fix what needs to be fixed but that is not what is going to happen.

  25. “Bridges Are Not Crumbling”

    They are burning, California style.

  26. I agree. Federalism is especially important for infrastructure maintenance, because differences in climate between, for example, Chicago and San Diego or Phoenix, create vast differences in the degree and type of gradual deterioration that occur buildings, roads, and other infrastructure that interface with the external environs.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.