President Joe Biden has signed the $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law this week. This money will go to existing highway programs and be spent by the state departments of transport (DOTs).
The price tag of the bill—which includes $550 billion in new spending, $110 billion of which is earmarked for highways and bridges—has seen it be described as a “historic” investment by supporters and a “monstrosity” by critics.
It will mostly top off existing programs and maintain the status quo, where certain states use their highway funds effectively while others set them on fire to produce better roads.
Baruch Feigenbaum is a senior managing direct of transportation policy at Reason Foundation, which publishes this site. “I don’t believe it’s going to change much,” he says. “There is no limit on how much money you can spend.” [state DOT]That’s what a poorly managed business can do. It could also make certain bottom states more wasteful in some ways.
This would also include New Jersey, which was ranked last today in the Reason Foundation’s report on highway performance.
According to the report, the Garden State spent $1,136255 per mile on state-controlled roads in 2019, while having the most severe urban congestion and poor pavement conditions.
It’s a far cry from more affordable states such as Virginia. The state-controlled roads cost only $34,969 for each mile. However, it also has a higher quality pavement and slightly less congestion. According to the Reason highway report (North Dakota was second), Virginia was ranked number two overall.
Feigenbaum said that New Jersey’s large expenditures could be partly attributed to the quality of its highways. They have more lanes, straighter curves and generally higher speeds to ensure safety. It is ranked fourth on the Reason Report in terms of fatality rates. He also said that a corrupted state DOT dominated by politicians could explain a lot.
He says that Virginia’s professional DOT has allowed it to maintain road quality and keep overall road spending within budget. Feigenbaum says that the DOT makes extensive use of public-private partnership, in which private firms contribute capital in order to build or upgrade highways. In return, they can charge tolls for any lanes built.
Biden’s bill for infrastructure does little, in line with his “spend more on same old programs” nature. It doesn’t do anything to expand interstate transportation or public-private partnerships.
Infrastructure bills increase private activity bonds, tax-exempt bonds that are issued by private companies to finance infrastructure projects. They can range from $15 billion up to $30 billion. A few programs that permit states to use tolls for congestion reduction or to rebuild bridges have been reauthorized. It does not prohibit interstate highway tolling.
Feigenbaum says that highway spending has been increasing in recent years, but with a marginal improvement in quality. Some states stand out because of their innovation or wastefulness.
Most likely, the new bill on infrastructure will produce even more.