Shoddy U.S. roads, bridges harm economy

Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — It was a beau­ti­ful May af­ter­noon when Don­nel Gomes took his week-old sil­ver Mer­cedes for a spin into the city. He turned onto Broad Street, a main thor­ough­fare down­town, and … ka­boom!

The car fell into a huge pot­hole, blow­ing its right tire, rip­ping the front axle and knock­ing out the air-bag sys­tem. Cost: $3,800.

“It was a wreck,” said the 48-year-old elec­tri­cian, al­though he reck­oned he got off easy com­pared with a mo­tor­cy­clist whom Mr. Gomes saw thrown into the air af­ter hit­ting a cra­ter on an­other down­town street. “A damn mine­field,” he said of tra­vers­ing many of Prov­i­dence’s roads.

Rhode Island has an un­usu­ally large share of shoddy high­ways, streets and bridges, but it’s not much bet­ter in the rest of the coun­try.

Amer­ica’s trans­por­ta­tion in­fra­struc­ture, once an en­gine of mo­bil­ity and pro­duc­tiv­ity, has fallen into such dis­re­pair that it’s be­come an eco­nomic al­ba­tross.

Con­sum­ers shell out bil­lions of dol­lars for ex­tra car re­pairs ev­ery year. In­suf­fi­cient and poorly main­tained roads mean costly bot­tle­necks for busi­nesses, which dis­cour­age ex­pan­sion and hob­ble Amer­i­can com­pa­nies com­pet­ing in the global econ­omy.

Conges­tion on ma­jor ur­ban high­ways costs the econ­omy more than $100 bil­lion a year in fuel and lost work time, es­ti­mates the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Civil Engi­neers.

And, says said Ca­sey Dinges, the en­gi­neer­ing group’s se­nior man­ag­ing di­rec­tor: “It’s be­come a white-knuckle ex­pe­ri­ence for many com­mut­ers.”

Age is a key fac­tor. Most of the ma­jor high­ways were built de­cades ago.

Amer­ica’s trans­por­ta­tion struc­tures look all the more frayed next to those in ad­vanced econ­o­mies in Europe and Japan, or in China, which has been busily con­struct­ing high-speed rail and new air­ports.

U.S. spend­ing for trans­por­ta­tion and other in­fra­struc­ture ac­counts for 2.4 per­cent of its econ­omy ver­sus about 12 per­cent for China, says econ­o­mist David Dol­lar, a for­mer China di­rec­tor for the World Bank. Europe’s in­fra­struc­ture spend­ing is about 5 per­cent.

Dol­lar, now with the Brook­ings In­sti­tu­tion, says vis­it­ing Chi­nese of­fi­cials and busi­ness lead­ers fre­quently re­mark how sur­prised they are at Amer­ica’s de­clin­ing in­fra­struc­ture, some­times ask­ing whether they can help fi­nance im­prove­ments.

Amer­i­can pol­i­ti­cians, from Pres­i­dent Barack Obama down to small-town may­ors, de­cry the de­plor­able con­di­tion of in­fra­struc­ture, but many are re­luc­tant to raise taxes or boost tolls and user fees.

Between the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and lo­cal en­ti­ties, gov­ern­ment spend­ing for high­ways runs less than $90 bil­lion a year, which is barely enough to main­tain the sta­tus quo, let alone im­prove road­way con­di­tions and per­for­mance.

That’s partly why the share of con­gested high­ways in U.S. cit­ies has risen from 25 per­cent in the early 1980s to more than 40 per­cent to­day, ac­cord­ing to the Trans­por­ta­tion Depart­ment. Roads with “ac­cept­able ride qual­ity” fell from 87 per­cent in 1995 to 82 per­cent in 2010.

New En­glanders and those in tough-cli­mate cit­ies like Chi­cago are used to swerv­ing around pot­holes, de­pres­sions and other un­sightly road haz­ards caused by na­ture’s freez­ing-and-thaw­ing cy­cle and man’s salt­ing of the streets.

Some of the worst roads, how­ever, are in sunny Cal­i­for­nia. All told, about a third of the state’s pub­lic roads are in bad shape, com­pared with 14 per­cent na­tion­ally.

United States - North America - East Asia - Asia - China - Greater China - Barack Obama - California - Rhode Island - Providence


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here