Seattle, WA – Decades of deferred maintenance, and declining gas tax revenue have left many of Washington’s roads in poor condition, and the cost of pushing back repairs is growing at an alarming rate each year. A new report from Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense examines road conditions and spending priorities in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia. The report recommends changes at both the state and federal level that can reduce future costs, benefit taxpayers, and create a better transportation system.
The report, Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads, found that between 2004 and 2008 states spent only 43 percent of total road construction and preservation funds on repair, while the remaining 57 percent of funds went to new construction. That means that 57 percent of the money was spent on one percent of the road network, while 43 percent of the money was dedicated to maintaining 99 percent of the system. As a result of these spending decisions and declining revenue, road conditions in many states are getting worse and costs for taxpayers are going up.
“Washington State is being forced to make tough budget decisions and needs to find ways to reduce costs by shifting more of our existing transportation funds toward road repair. This will create jobs today, give our state the quality roads we need and save us dollars in the future,” said Rob Johnson, Executive Director of Transportation Choices Coalition. “To get Washington moving again, we need to prioritize Washington’s spending decisions to focus on safety and repair first.”
“Spending too little on repair and allowing roads to fall apart exposes states and the federal government to huge financial liabilities,” said Roger Millar of Smart Growth America. “The cost of repair rises as roads age. Fiscally responsible leaders will recognize that prioritizing funding for repair isn’t just a matter of smoother roads, it’s a matter of protecting taxpayers from future costs.”
Washington’s current conditions and spending priorities
As of 2008, 44 percent of Washington’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, 56 percent of Washington’s roads were in good condition. Between 2004 and 2008 Washington spent $181 million annually on repair.
Washington would need to spend $426 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.
“We have hundreds of millions if not billions dollars worth of crumbling roads and bridges that need to be fixed in Washington State. It’s critical that we fix what we have, and not waste valuable resources expanding the road network, which only leads to sprawl, congestion and pollution,” said Tim Gould, Transportation Chair of the Sierra Club, Washington Chapter. “The need to focus on repairing our aging infrastructure has never been greater and with that focus our transportation system can work better for all road users, including transit, freight and bicycles.”
More information about the high cost of delaying road repair, how other states invest their transportation dollars to cut costs and what leaders can do to address these concerns is available in the full report, at www.smartgrowthamerica.org/repair-priorities.