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The Problem With Potholes: Neglected Road Repair Poses Huge Liabilities for Many States

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For decades, states have invested disproportionately in road expansion and left regular repair and preservation underfunded. As a result of these spending decisions, road conditions in many states are getting worse and threaten taxpayers with billions of dollars in preventable expenses.

Between 2004 and 2008, states collectively spent $37.9 billion on road repair and expansion projects. The majority of these funds -- 57% -- went to just 1.3% of roads during this time. The remaining 99% of states' road networks received only 43% of funding. Not surprisingly, without adequate funding for repair many roads across the country fell out of good condition during this time.

Investing in expansion at the cost of repair doesn't just mean a rougher ride on some roads: it's a transportation investment strategy that poses huge financial liabilities for states. Putting off repairs today means spending much more on those repairs in the future, as repair costs rise exponentially as road conditions decline. According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, repairing a road that has fallen into poor condition can cost up to 14 times as much as preserving a road in good condition to begin with. Compounding these costs is the fact that with every dollar spent on road expansion, states add to a system they are already failing to adequately maintain.

According to a new report by Smart Growth America and Taxpayers for Common Sense, states would collectively need to spend $43 billion every year for 20 years to bring the country's roads currently in poor condition up to good condition and then keep them that way. To put this figure in perspective, $43 billion is more than what states are currently spending on all repair, preservation, and new capacity combined. The fact that states' outstanding repair need is so great makes clear that spending priorities have drifted too far from regular repair and, in so doing, have created a deficit that will take decades to reverse.

Preserving a road in good condition through periodic repair is significantly cheaper than allowing it to degrade and then rebuilding it. By prioritizing maintaining roads in good condition, states can avoid the substantially higher cost of bringing crumbling roads back to a state of good repair down the line.

More information about these issues, and recommendations for how state and federal leaders can take action, is available in Repair Priorities: Transportation spending strategies to save taxpayer dollars and improve roads. There you can also find information about each state's road conditions and spending choices. Visit www.smartgrowthamerica.org to learn more.