I have traveled the interstate highways many times over the years. They used to be the smoothest, fastest way to go. Now the interstates are filled with potholes and traffic. The traffic I can deal with, even through big city interchanges. It’s those (fill in your favorite expletive) potholes that bang up the tires, throw out the alignment, and hurt my back. It is so bad that the American Society of Civil Engineers rated our roads a D with more than 40 percent in need of repair. The World Economic Forum rates the United States 13th in a list of countries’ Overall Infrastructure with an 87.9 score. Recently, IH-20 through Shreveport, LA, IH-59 through Chattanooga, TN, and IH-40 through Knoxville, TN, all fall into that category for me.
Why is it so bad?
Let’s face it, most interstate highways are nearly 70 years old. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, thanks to President Eisenhower’s administration, developed the system as we know it. So, age comes into play. But not just that.
The state of highway engineering was not at today’s level. The design laid asphalt over a thinly packed layer of dirt. Climatic conditions cause frost-wedging in winter to high temperatures in summer. The result breaks up parts of the asphalt creating a crumbling roadway and potholes. Today, we can even lay blame on climate warming.
Wait, there’s more to it. In 1956, we Americans drove more than 600 million miles. As of 2019, we racked up over 3 trillion vehicle miles of travel per year. The 2020 pandemic dropped that by a few hundred million, but we are on track to make up for it. The rising cost of fuel has slowed us down somewhat.
Speaking of cost, there’s that little problem with money. Fixing all those worn-out roads cost a lot, and those costs are rising. However, funding for those repairs did not increase for many years. To pay for the Interstate Highway System, Eisenhower pushed through the Highway Revenue Act of 1956. That law created a federal excise tax with monies flowing into the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). This “gas tax” contributes to the price per gallon that we pay at the pump. That remained stable for 28 years, when lawmakers raised it in 1993 from 14.1 cents to 18.4 cents. Unfortunately, that is not adjusted for inflation, which is up 93 percent.
How can we fix it?
Let’s begin with the money. The “gas tax” rate is locked into a flat rate, changeable only by Congress. The inflationary adjustment would bring it to 33 cents per gallon. The Congressional Budget Office projects a $250 billion shortfall for the HTF by 2033. The Treasury Department makes up the difference from the General Fund, transferring $275 billion since 2008.
What about the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) of 2021? Nope. That is another transfer of money. The U.S. imposes the lowest excise tax on fuel of all G7 countries. To generate revenue for the HTF, Congress must tie the gas excise tax to the inflation rate. That will immediately add a few billion. However, there are other ways: replacing the gas tax with a percentage-based fee, imposing a vehicle mileage use fee, adding a road fee to the purchase price, etc.
Only when sustainable funding stabilizes the HTF can maintenance and repair begin. Let us remember that states add road taxes, as well. In combination, the HTF, state tax, and the financial injection from the BIL will help to remove those potholes or keep them filled, at least.
I often have the unpleasant task of driving south-bound I-59 from its northern end at I-24. The right lane has several areas that are rough. So, too, is the right lane of north-bound I-59 north of Gadsden. I-59 begins several miles west of Chattanooga, but it does not go through it.
The roads are awful because the political class needs them to be. Like clockwork, every cycle we’re told that we need our taxes increased to fix the roads. Desperate voters support the increase and little happens beyond an increase in spending on other special interests. The cycle repeats. If they were to ever properly maintain the roads, they fear that voters would no longer support tax increases. The main reason I do not support tax increases is because I never see the results of the previous cycle.
Since our political class cannot even manage pavement, I have little faith in their ability to solve the bigger problems.
Wait till they increase our fuel taxes so we can repave the Ukrainian roads before fixing our own.
Worse than that: Social Security is predicted to become insolvent about the time I’ll be eligible to collect. And yet we sent billions to Ukraine to shore up the retirement system for Ukrainian civil servants?
Sending billions of borrowed money to other nations. If we would quit sending billions or trillions overseas, maybe we wouldn’t need to increase the debt limit again. It is absolutely asinine.
“Globalism” = The “Controlled Destruction” Of America… Just Consider this…
Unless AI takes over the world first.😲 –Diane at RVtravel.com
Sure hope not. Easier to fight the Marxists. 😅🤣
👍 Have a good evening/night, Cancelproof. 😀 –Diane
Defunding the United Nations should be the first order of business. Populism and nationalism are the only answers. Indisputably accurate but the Marxists will push back with make believe compassion.
What a terrible article. The author speaks from a left-coast point of view about adding more fees, aka taxes, to fuel costs but speaks nothing of added taxes for those who opt to drive electric vehicles. Most people realize that a very good portion of our fuel tax monies is siphoned off the support public transportation systems that don’t work, are corrupt as heck, and get used by a small percentage of a state’s population.
Couple this with government handouts like free tuition, free WiFi, free school lunches…free, free, free, where does it stop, and there is very little left to address our highways
Billions of dollars on foreign aid, millions to support illegal aliens, Congressional pet projects, welfare and socialist handouts. I wonder what happened to the millions promised in infrastructure repair promised under the guise of “shovel-ready jobs” proclaimed by a retired politician?
Your statement “today we can even lay blame on climate warming”. That is statement with zero journalistic honesty. It is simply a gratuitous comment not based on any factual or scientific grounds. You may believe that it is accurate (I doubt it) but the claim is not supported by any science, that potholes are a result of climate change. Tolerances for temperature fluctuations in asphalt surfaces are not measured in a quarter of a degree. Frost heave is an issue, COLD, nothing on the warming or heat end of pavement in any region of the planet that has asphalt installed on roadways. Yes, asphalt softens a little on hot days in direct sunlight but the tolerance is not 170 degree suface temperature is fine but 170.25 degrees surface temperature is not. Politicians would love to deflect blame for potholes onto global climate change, wouldn’t they?
Potholes? Really? Next it will be increased road kill can be partially blamed on climate change. Sheesh.
With us drivers giving governments billions in highway taxes the roads and bridges should be prefect. Anyone with a straight axel knows that is far from the truth. Money for international politics and illegal border jumpers and a million social programs but are roads are allowed to go to hell.
Our roads should be paved with gold, instead our corrupt politicians 401ks are paved with gold.
Are potholes in roads also rascist, or is it just the actual roads and bridges?
Agreed! America Is Being Systematically “Dismantled” ( By Design)…
Seems to me that the condition of our roads and highways is a very accurate metaphor for the state of the entire USA in general today.
Well Said, Captain Gort !
Well, well, well, the Pothole issue. Your saying that $2 Trillion of taxes for the Build Back Better and Infrastructure bills not actually building our infrastructure back better? How about the trillion dollar Inflation Reduction Act? Surely Inflation is back under 2% by now? NO…. it’s not you say. Obviously the crime and murder rates are down and surely no child is being left behind? Well then, mortgage rates most be low? Stock market is surely up? Title 9 is at least protecting girls and women, no? At least men aren’t changing clothes in the girls locker rooms.
Doing the same thing and expecting different results. That’s Progress. That’s the New American Way.
We have millions of miles of roads and all will need repair at some time and we just need to continue the work. There is also billions of dollars in the government coffers that should be better deployed – yes I’m talking NATO and wasting money on Ukraine and climate change.
All that said, avoid I40 in Arizona from Kingman to the California border as it is an embarrassment and almost undriveable over 50mph. I’m talking to you Pete.
AZ ADOT has just relocated $50 million to fix at least some of the potholes. They have already started resurfacing I-17 south of Flagsaff. I-40 is on the list.
I-40 has been a mess for a decade or longer. I hope they get it right and that they get 300 miles of that dissaster done. It’s an absolute joke to drive on.
Once you’ve crossed the border at Beaver Creek Canada (that quickly turns to US territory), the road from there to Tok, AK is an international embarrassment. Understand the agreement that the US help with maintenance of the Alaska Highway has expired on the Canadian side. Last I saw, Canada is doing a much better job than the US on their end of the road.
Having traveling over 140,000 miles across the US let me say that the D rating is BS and we do not have a “crumbling infrastructure” or I would have fallen off the earth long ago. In every state there is construction work going on at the federal, state, county and local levels and those folks are turning out excellent roads. In fact every able bodied construction worker is employed and we have reached the maximum level of efficiency based on the existing people resources. Look at the person holding the flags if you want proof of who’s available for work.
(Off Topic) Lets Start With America,s Education System First, Then Move On To To The Roads… Just Saying…
Different funding sources…just saying…
Yes, I know this Gary 🙂 Thx
Way back in my earlier days they used to have EXCISE tax on tires. They took that away,( or most of it) so the powers that be could say they reduced taxes. It was less than a buck for passenger car tires. If you can’t afford $5 for tires that you’ll have for 3 or more years( most people) than you shouldn’t own a car
We have noted that the closer one gets to the state capitals the smoother the highways!
jurisdictions everywhere have become like a wash basin. Everything drains to the centre.
One growing issue is our highway maintenance is funded by gas tax, how is gas tax collected on EV’s. While the percentage of EV’s on our roads today is small, their number is growing every day, however they do NOT contribute to the maintenance. If this is not addressed and we eventually go all electric, our highway infrastructure will disintegrate rapidly!
Well in Washington State Governor Inslee imposed a carbon tax thats not a tax of 60 cents a gallon on fuel that goes into a black hole in the state coffers. So fill your tanks before you cross our border. Oh and be sure to check our illegal gun bans. It is now a crime to cross our border with them. Oh and if you want to murder your unborn baby come here and we’ll take care of it for you.
Politicians and many others waste our gas tax money and always find excuses to steal more money from us. Penndot told Lackawanna County (Pa.) they need to build a 60 million transportation building. Which I have to assume money is coming from our gas tax. In the repair of roads they use union labor instead of the lowest bidder with the best quality. Than thy die on the job. Some of the contractors don’t even warrenty their work. Penndot can’t even do an estimate that don’t go over budget.We see so much waste of gas tax money. They have even been using gas tax money to pay the state police. Who don’t stop speeding on our highways.
As always, misaligned incentives. The politicians spend other peoples money on other people. And do we really think those same people are really all that concerned about the quality of work done by contractors? Money is not really the issue.
I think Dan’s comment hits the nail on the head. Like here in Mass they have added a gas tax increase several times for road and bridge repair. Not to mention a vehicle excise tax.The problem is the money goes into a general fund like many others taxes. Then they grab it for their pet projects to get them re-elected. The money is there just not the management. And yes the second problem is the contractors who do the very bare minimum so they have repeat work. I have said that if you want a state or city funded contract you have to offer some type of warranty. I would make them take out a bond that protects the interest of the job performed. If you want a good example check out the troubles with the BIG DIG in Boston. That has been a real joke. We will be paying for the 50 years for something that won’t last that long.
Politics,unions,corruption, and kick backs. 🙁 🙁
The author appears to be the typical journalist. Pick a subject and start writing with no research of facts.”Applying a thin layer of asphalt over dirt” is not the way road construction works. It takes 8” of asphalt to support the constant weight of semi’s. Under that thick layer is compacted gravel several inches deep. Now onto the reasons why the highways are in disrepair. Politicians skim off highway tax funds to supplement mass transit so the voters in large cities don’t have to pay their fare share to ride the transit system, after all those of us who drive to all our shopping needs don’t vote in the cities. Ex. Chicago (I haven’t lived there in 38 years) a person could catch a bus at the corner, pay 50 cents, and through the use of the transfer system ride buses from the south side to the north side over to the west side and back to the south side and never spend more than 50 cents, NOT FAIR! Try putting $.50 gas into your car and see how far you get.
Oh I almost forgot, for that fare you could be robbed, raped, and even murdered for the price of your fare. Take politics out of the funds and every road in the USA could be smooth as glass. Have you ever seen the small sign on the back of semi’s that say this truck pays over $3000 each year in highway use tax plus they pay more in fuel tax every time they buy diesel, that tax is higher than gasoline tax. Politicians and scientists are ruining the world we live on.
scientists? Wow dude you sure got off topic on your little rant
The tax on diesel in Pa. per gallon is more the the tax on gas per gallon.
That’s because semi trucks use diesel, and trucks do the most damage to roads. That’s a fact.
So when trucks are all electric in your unicorn filled future, will the roads become pillowy soft and silky smooth like driving on rainbows.
Where exactly to Mayor Pete’s rascist bridges and roads fit into the liberal pothole theories? I’m pretty sure he has mentioned how rascist potholes are too, I just can’t recall exactly when. I for one hate rascist roads. I find rascist bridges deplorable. We should burn it all down and rebuild it, kind of like Chicago does on the weekends.
The article left out a key issue. The highway trust fund was originally supposed to be used only for building highways and their maintenance. Like other designated user fees, congress eventually got their greasy fingers on it and pooled it into their bottomless slush fund. The American Trucking Association fought long and hard to protect that money, but, as usual, politics win, the rest of us lose. And we keep on paying.
On another note. It’s not only highways that aren’t being maintained. We live just outside a capital city, on a decently maintained road. As soon as we hit the first stop sign at the edge of the city, county maintenance ends, and then hang on, slow down, get ready to dodge and weave through the potholes.