In a detailed report, the Committee for Economic Development of the Conference Board made recommendations for improving America’s roads and bridges. The nonprofit, non-partisan, business-led public-policy organization delivers analysis and solutions to critical national issues.
Noting that the National Highway System carries more than 75% of heavy truck traffic as well as 40% of all highway traffic and 90% of all tourist traffic, CED made several recommendations in its report, including more private investment in road building and maintenance, streamlining regulatory review, improving project selection, investing in technology and moving toward user fees to fund roads and bridges.
The study was spurred by discussions by Congress and the Trump Administration to increase investment in repairing, expanding and modernizing the country’s infrastructure. The report, Fixing America’s Roads & Bridges: The Path Forward, examines the role U.S. surface transportation plays in economic activity.
The report recommended greater private sector investment because lifecycle costs are better incorporated into the upfront cost of a project. Private money also incentivizes faster project completion because delays can incur contractual penalties as well as rewards, according to the study. Businesses were also seen as a way to increase the adoption of cost-saving technologies.
On the public side of things, CED encouraged public officials to be smarter about selecting projects based on a data-driven approach. Rather than putting political needs (pork projects) at the forefront of project selection, investment decisions should be made with the entire transportation network in mind instead of on a stand-alone basis.
CED also advocated for more reliance on user fees to cover operational and maintenance costs using mileage-based fees. These fees can fluctuate based on the demand for road space at particular times of the day through managed traffic lanes in congested areas. The belief is that travelers are more willing to pay a fee or a premium to achieve a more reliable travel experience.
Regulations and permitting at all levels need to be streamlined, according to CED. Inefficient regulatory reviews can cause long delays and increase project costs. CED recommends more consultation between regulators and all participants in development and delivery of infrastructure projects.
Technology investment could play a role in the future of infrastructure reform, particularly in autonomous vehicles. Modernized roads with sensors that can communicate with vehicles, relay real-time traffic information, and offer weather alerts should become the norm instead of the exception, according to CED.
Lastly, public education is important for infrastructure investment in order to inform Americans about the complexity and importance of the nation’s roads and bridges. Leaders in public and private sectors are encouraged to reach out to the public to emphasize the importance of a strong transportation system to garner interest and support.
The CED’s full report and podcast can be accessed here.