by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Politics may indeed be a problem for the upkeep of our infrastructure, but the villain is probably not who the media thinks it is. Randall O’Toole:
The reason for this is that politicians prefer to spend money building new infrastructure over maintaining the old. The result is that existing infrastructure that depends on tax dollars steadily declines while any new funds raised for infrastructure tend to go to new projects.
We can see this in the Boston, Washington, and other rail transit systems. Boston’s system is $9 billion in debt, has a $3 billion maintenance backlog, and needs to spend nearly $700 million a year just to keep the backlog from growing. Yet has only budgeted $100 million for maintenance this year, and instead of repairing the existing system, Boston is spending $2 billion extending one of its light-rail lines.
Similarly, Washington’s Metro rail system has a $10 billion maintenance backlog, and poor maintenance was the cause of the 2009 wreck that killed nine people. Yet, rather than rehabilitate their portions of the system, Northern Virginia is spending $6.8 billion building a new rail line to Dulles Airport; D.C. wants to spend $1 billion on new streetcar lines; and Maryland is considering building a $2.5 billion light-rail line in D.C. suburbs.
On the other hand, infrastructure that is funded out of user fees is generally in good shape. Despite tales of crumbling bridges, the 2007 Minnesota bridge collapse was due to a construction flaw and the 2013 Washington state bridge collapse was due to an oversized truck; lack of maintenance had nothing to do with either failure.
Department of Transportation numbers show that the number of bridges considered structurally deficient has fallen by more than 50 percent since 1990, while the average roughness of highway pavement has decreased.