American Transportation Infrastructure

The Economist has a good look at our transportation infrastructure and (lack of) innovation. You should read the whole thing.

A few highlights:

  1. According to the World Economic Forum America ranks 23rd for overall infrastructure quality.
  2. America’s road fatality rate is 60% above the OECD average.
  3. Total public spending on transport and water infrastructure is 2.4% of GDP
  4. In 2006, road taxes at all levels only provided 72% of the money spent on highways

These are symptoms. Symptoms of the problems plaguing our transportation infrastructure. It strikes me as self-defeating that the solutions being called for always involve more government. More taxes. More spending.

The article makes the following observations:

Petrol-tax revenues, for instance, are returned to the states according to the miles of highway they contain, the distances their residents drive, and the fuel they burn. The system is awash with perverse incentives. A state using road-pricing to limit travel and congestion would be punished for its efforts with reduced funding, whereas one that built highways it could not afford to maintain would receive a larger allocation.


Cost-benefit studies are almost entirely lacking. Federal guidelines for new construction tend to reflect politics rather than anything else.

Why then aren’t we looking outside the box? Let’s solve the problem, not band-aid the symptoms. The problem, in this case, is that Politics trumps solutions.

The article, however, does put forth some good solutions to the problem of disparate funding structures and the true costs being hidden.

Economists press for direct user fees. An early Obama administration flirtation with a tax on miles driven attracted little support, but some cities have run, or are thinking of running, pilot schemes. Congestion charges present another possibility. State governments have increasingly turned to tolls to fund individual projects, but tolling inevitably meets stiff public resistance.

Ah, now we’re talking. Use fees and tolls. Gas consumption fees do not correlate to road/transporation usage and costs. Pay for what you use. This, more than anything, will cause people to make the most efficient use of our resources and infrastructure.