New report details road repair woes in Alabama, US

For decades, states have invested disproportionately in road expansion and left regular repair underfunded. As a result of these spending decisions, road conditions in many states are getting worse, and costs to repair these roads are rising faster than most states can address them.

A new report from Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads, examines road conditions and spending in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, and the huge financial liabilities states are exposed to by disproportionally investing in expansion at the cost of regular repair. This report, focused exclusively on road repair, builds off of Transportation for America’s report last year on the state of America’s bridges.

A few cracks and potholes might not seem like the makings of an impending budget crisis, but repair costs rise exponentially as roads age. Allowing a road to fall into poor condition and then rebuilding it can cost up to 14 times as much as keeping that road in good condition to begin with. Repairs get more expensive as a road’s condition declines, so it’s much more prudent to do repairs early while they’re still relatively cheap. Investing in expansion at the cost of repair also means that with every dollar spent on new construction, states add to a system they are already failing to adequately maintain.

As of 2008, 24 percent of Alabama’s state-owned major roads were not in good condition. These roads will be increasingly expensive to repair as maintenance is pushed farther back. In the same year, 74 percent of Alabama’s roads were in good condition. Between 2004 and 2008 Alabama spent $337 million annually on repair.

“Alabama is making tough budget decisions and needs to proactively reduce costs by shifting more of our existing transportation funds toward road repair. This will save us money in the future and give our state the high quality roads we need,” said Adam Snyder, executive director of the Conservation Alabama Foundation. “We encourage Governor Bentley to reprioritize transportation spending decisions in order to improve Alabama’s fiscal health.”

Alabama would need to spend $630 million annually for the next twenty years to get the current backlog of poor-condition major roads into a state of good repair and maintain all state-owned roads in good condition. Delaying those repairs will only become more costly for the state. According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, every $1 spent to keep a road in good condition avoids $6-14 needed later to rebuild the same road once it has deteriorated significantly.

“Federal taxpayers have an enormous stake in seeing that our roads are kept in good condition,” Erich W. Zimmermann of Taxpayers for Common Sense said in a statement. “Billions of precious tax dollars were spent to build our highway system, and neglecting repair squanders that investment. Keeping our roads in good condition reduces taxpayers’ future liabilities.”

An interactive map accompanies the report with state-by-state stats on road expenditures and conditions. More information about the high cost of delaying repair, how states invest their transportation dollars and what leaders can do to address these concerns is available in the full report, at www.smartgrowthamerica.org/repair-priorities.

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