posted on Jan, 30 2014 @ 08:42 PM
No, just... no.
Highway funding isn't nearly as simplistic as most people would believe.
The Federal Highway Trust Fund was created in 1956 to, obviously, fund highway infrastructure needs in both maintenance and new construction. Since
that time, quite a lot has gone wrong with the program. These issues are saddle burrs for both parties, which is why they rarely are acted upon by
1. Pedestrian and bicycle facility requirements have been pushed by DC over the past 2 decades. These design elements add major, major costs to
highway projects. You're dealing with everything from additional paving and concrete for curbs, sidewalks, and curb ramps to dramatically increased
Right-of-Way purchases, most of which ultimately result in a significant property value markup prior to the agency take. If the FHWA is contributing
a single cent to a project, then that project had better be fully ADA compliant, accomodate bicycle facilities (usually with an additional property
buffer unless a compelling, NON COST RELATED reason not to can be presented), and have other recent costly regulations accomodated such as anadromous
fish passages on streams that used to be handled with a simple large bore metal culvert. All of these balloon costs significantly and, let's be
honest here, cyclists, walkers, and fish don't contribute to the fuel and tire taxes the same way a guy driving his car to work every day does.
2. Regulations, permits, and analysis cycles... Unlike 1956, 2014 roadway construction costs also include a whole slew of permit costs, including a
high front end cost of preparing and researching them. Then there's the added cost of mitigation. In the past 10 years there's been a movement by
the Feds towards increased costs not being a suitable reason to not avoid an enviornmental impact. If bridging or bypassing a simple wetland
increases your cost by $20 Million, too bad! Should have factored that cost into your preliminary coridor engineering estimate. Plus, if it is
classified as a cultural resource site, critical habitat, or protected wetland, then you're looking at zero chance of negatively impacting it and the
Feds will order the road moved... which creates conflicts because often it is the Feds who are demanding the road be built/improved in the first
place. Then you've got the flood impacts and "environmental justice" issues which dictate that your project undergo a complete federal review
leading to a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) from the Feds or, far worse, a Federal rejection of a FONSI which essentially starts the entire
process over again.
3. The Road to Nowhere Leads To Me... In the 70s and 80s, America underwent a vast increase in the number of highway projects, largely thanks to
Carter and Reagan instituting workplans and tabbing roads as good busy work to create jobs. This lead to a lot of paved roads that served very few
people. It is infinitely easier to get federal approval to turn a dirt road black (pave it) than it is to get approval to strip the paving off a
blacktop road and change it to dirt. Conversely, maintenance of asphalt is a lot more expensive than monthly regrading of a dirt road with a blade.
There are a lot of rural areas which simply shouldn't have a huge paved road network, but they're stuck with one and the money to maintain them
comes from the state and from the Feds... and yes, it robs Peter to pay Paul, as that money could better be used to revitalize existing roadways and
bridges that see greater use.
4. Legacy-seeking politicians... Building something new is a lot sexier than repairing something which is broken, especially when you're repairing a
bridge or a road. When a bridge has reached its design life, it usually isn't apparent to the general public. Once a concrete and steel structure
begins to fail, it does so catastrophically. Concrete has no elasticity and steel has no compressive strength. In other words, when rebar rots,
concrete is pulled apart like a shortbread cookie being fought over by two toddlers and when concrete crumbles away, rebar collapses like an empty
Coke can stepped on by a fat man. There is no glitz in spending millions to rebuild a bridge the general public likely views as being just fine.
Thus: Money spent on building brand new facilities while turning a blind eye to 50 year old bridges that have reached their life cycle.
5. "Other" transportation projects using TEA funds from the trust. Many of these recent high speed and light rail projects have been funded using
Trust Fund money. The last 15 years saw a glut of light rail projects, many of which were in states and cities that absolutely did not have the
ridership potential to warrant the expenses. Look at the light rail in New Mexico. They haven't even had the ridership to break even on the annual
operating costs yet, let alone the millions it cost to construct it! That is simply foolish stewardship over tax dollars. Every cent of the money
used was needed elsewhere, but again... legacy hunting followed with political priorities equals spending debacles. A lot of communities have bus
programs which are also funded from the trust fund, in complete negligence of what the fund was initially set up to do.
There really are only 3 answers to the problem. First, redirect the Trust fund expenditures to maintenance, repair, and reconstruction BEFORE
allowing a single cent to stray into new coridor construction. Next, lock down roadway expenditures to only be used on roadway projects. Funding for
pedestrian, rail, and alternative transportation projects must come from a separately funded source... perhaps a handlebar tax on bikes and a shoe tax
on walkers? (I kid, but that's pretty much exactly the nature of taxes motorists are expected to pony-up on for the honor of having roads to drive
on.) Finally, there needs to be a recentering of the entire system, focused on public input. Enough with the red tape, legacy hunting, and buddy
projects! Start putting actual projects on ballots instead of just putting the transportation bonds up for vote in November. Ask the voters:
"Should we reconstruct Road A or build Road A-2 next year? Before you answer, here's what the expected costs for each will be and who will benefit
from each." Start drawing John Q. Citizen into the inner workings of transportation planning and economics. Worst case scenario, the publics' eyes
will glaze over and they'll begin to speak in tongues, but I bet there's a core of voters who will actively explore the topic and once you have
public buy-in, credit AND fault become shared, which will reduce legacy hunting as well as bolster responsibility for decision making. Both of which
equate to an improved product, in this case roads.