Photos courtesy of Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department
There’s no way to sugarcoat it. The current state of our nation’s infrastructure is grim.
Our nation’s infrastructure has long been our economic backbone, but we’ve been investing in it less and less. As a result, bridge failings and dangerous highway collapses across our nation make the news on a regular basis.
These high profile infrastructure failings should be a national wake-up call. Though the problems span the nation, there are real implications close to home.
According to 2013 data, the Federal Highway Administration determined that 22.7 percent of bridges in Arkansas are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. And according to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2013 Report Card statistics, driving on roads in need of repair costs Arkansas motorists $634 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs — that’s $308 per motorist. The costs to our vehicles and pocketbooks aren’t surprising when 39 percent of all Arkansas’ roads are in poor or mediocre condition.
The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department has recently suspended bidding on 76 projects worth $335 million this year because of the ongoing uncertainty over the Federal Highway Trust Fund.
At the end of July, Congress passed another short-term extension to authorize the U.S. Department of Transportation to continue making payments from the Highway Trust Fund through Oct. 29. This was the 33rd time that Congress has passed a short-term extension and the third patch in the last year alone.
We are never more than a few months away from uncertainty as we approach the October deadline. But the Senate has passed a six-year bill that, if passed, will lend the state a little bit of sight down the road to plan for construction on critical infrastructure projects.
The Senate’s multiyear reauthorization, if passed, will at least provide minimum stable funding for our nation’s highways, bridges, transit and rail systems for the first three years using transfers from the general fund. It is a good start. And, a necessary one.
But, given the stakes, maintenance backlog, risk to public safety and short- and longer-term term economic implications, it is only a start.
Anything short of a long-term solution that not only replenishes but also sufficiently funds the federal Highway Trust Fund, which provides states funding to maintain transportation infrastructure, falls short.
There is no easy fix. There never is.
Still, leadership on this issue must be about solving the problem in a way that protects and preserves public safety.
If our nation’s infrastructure was a private home and allowed to fall into such a dangerous state of disrepair, what would be the proper response?
In order to address these long-term challenges, Congress will have to approve reliable long-term federal funding dedicated to provide a strong investment in aging highways and bridges across the nation. This is the only way to ensure that they are safe and properly maintained and to keep them that way.
For that, we will all need to remain informed and vigilant on this critical public safety issue. Individually and collectively, we must make it a national priority.