America's Bridges Are Not Falling

April 16, 2013

America's infrastructure is failing. This statement is repeated frequently by campaigning politicians who draw the connection between the quality of infrastructure and America's ability to compete in an international economy. One of the most common anecdotes is that U.S. bridges are crumbling under traffic. However, an analysis of the data clearly shows that America's bridges and infrastructure have improved over the last few decades, says Bloomberg News.

  • Between 2001 and 2011, annual U.S. public investment averaged 3.3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), which was 0.3 percent more than the average for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) -- an organization comprised of the most developed countries in the world.
  • Across the OECD, average infrastructure spending since 1970 has totaled 2 percent to 3.5 percent of GDP, which places the United States on par with peer nations like Canada, Germany and Australia.
  • The United States has also maintained fairly steady infrastructure spending and, despite spending cuts and a tightening of the fiscal belt, spending remains strong.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, total public construction spending has varied between 1.7 percent and 2.3 percent of GDP during the last 20 years. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the figure to be between 2.3 percent and 3.1 percent of GDP since 1956.

  • Overall, current and past levels of infrastructure spending have led to a system that has improved significantly over the last 20 years.
  • In 2010, 57 percent of all vehicle-miles were traveled on federal highways with ratings of "good" or higher compared with only 48 percent a decade earlier.
  • Only 1.9 percent of rural interstates and 5.4 percent of urban interstates are considered poor today, compared with 6.6 percent in 1989.

Despite politician's frequent claims that we must increase infrastructure to fix our broken system, traffic congestion has reduced and bridge safety has increased.

  • Only 26.3 percent of urban interstates were rated as congested in 2010, compared with 52.6 percent in 1989.
  • The highway administration rated 21.9 percent of its bridges as "deficient" in 2009, compared with 37.8 percent in 1989.

Instead of calling for more infrastructure spending, the United States should continue to do what it and most other developed nations have done: invest about 3 percent of GDP into infrastructure.

Source: Evan Solitas, "The Myth of the Falling Bridge," Bloomberg News, April 8, 2013.

 

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