America’s transportation eyes are turning back to Washington, as the n-th temporary extension of the highway fund is about to expire. But the cold reality is that no matter what Congress does, it’s not likely to fix the potholes on the streets in your town. That’s because local streets largely aren’t paid for by federal funds, and only a limited about of the federal road money makes it down to the local level in any case.
That’s the subject of my new Manhattan Institute Issue Brief “Beyond Repair? America’s Infrastructure Crisis Is Local.” The key point is that there’s a part of our transportation challenge that is simply not addressable by the federal government through the very design of the federal funding system. The federal highway program was created to build the interstate system and care for major infrastructure, not maintain city streets and rural roads. Given that so many cities have a major street repair backlog and aren’t able to even prevent further deterioration, it suggests to me a business model problem at the local level. This needs to be solved locally at the state level.
One challenge localities is face is that while they do receive some federal funds, and a larger chunk of state money, they get raise most of their transport dollars themselves, and this largely comes from general revenue type pots of money.
With street repairs often in competition with things like pensions and public safety for funding, unsurprisingly it often loses and ends up at the back of the line or crowded out altogether.
I provide some practical policy suggestions cities can look at. The solutions will be as diverse as our communities. But it’s ultimately from state and local government that the solutions to this part of the transportation challenge must be found.
Click through to read the whole thing.