Not Everything Is Broken with U.S. Transportation and Water Infrastructure; Improved Targeted Strategies Needed to Fix Infrastructure Funding and Finance
Dec 5, 2017
The nation's transportation and water infrastructure needs are diverse, as are the reasons for maintenance backlogs and delays in rebuilding and modernization. This report examines current policy on U.S. transportation and water infrastructure and considers possible improvements.
The Future of U.S. Transportation and Water Infrastructure Funding and Finance
Published Dec 5, 2017
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This report identifies the policies that promote and deter investment in and maintenance of U.S. transportation and water infrastructure. It focuses on status and trends in operations and maintenance (O&M) and capital spending by all levels of government; reviews current policy and practice; and recommends actions that the federal government could take to better align both policy and spending to public priorities.
The United States' transportation and water infrastructure needs are diverse, as are the reasons for maintenance backlogs and delays in rebuilding and modernization. Massive federal spending to repair or build anew may do some good by stimulating demand for construction services, but it will not fix what is broken in our approach to funding and financing public works — and not everything is broken. Underinvestment, to the extent it is occurring, varies widely by ownership, geography, and type of infrastructure. For example, while road and bridge conditions generally have improved overall since 2002, conditions on less-traveled roads have deteriorated. Lasting changes will require thoughtful consideration of targeted spending priorities, policy constraints, and regional differences.
The authors see no need for wholesale change in current roles and responsibilities among federal, state, and local governments. Policy changes at the federal level could drive public spending to high-priority regional-scale projects designed to deliver sustained national economic benefits. Changes in federal tax and fiscal policy could draw more private capital into financing public infrastructure, but direct private investment in transportation and water infrastructure is likely for only a limited class of profitable projects, and striking the appropriate balance between a larger role for the private sector and protecting taxpayers from financial risk has proven difficult in practice.