The NMA Foundation presents The Car of the Future weekly feature:
President Trump came into office with the promise of building a one trillion dollar infrastructure plan. As we continue to wait for the plan to come together, road infrastructure continues to decline with few solutions since the funding is just not there.
In the meantime, the media and lawmakers seem to be fixated on bringing even more complexity to the equation by pushing the car of the future which will have its own infrastructure needs beyond the current situation.
The problem is simple: the funding to maintain our bridges, highways, roads and streets has not kept pace with the need to maintain and repair. If road infrastructure is not maintained or replaced, the price tag becomes even higher because more extensive work will then need to be done. Adding the needs of the car of the future to that price tag, can we reasonably expect anything to happen?
Here are some insights about infrastructure that came out in the past week.
First some good news: the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) issued a report this month stating that the number of structurally deficient bridges has dropped by 24.5 percent while the value of construction increased by 39 percent.
The bad news though from the same report: ARTBA chief economist Dr. Allison Premo Black, who conducted the analysis, said it will take more than 30 years to replace or repair all of the country’s structurally deficient bridges. Not only that, the average age of these bridges is now 67 years old and the average age of bridges that are not deficient is 39 years old. Bridges are generally built for a 50 year life span.
The New York Times reported this week that public works funding is falling as infrastructure deteriorates. According to the Census Bureau data, spending equaled 1.4 percent of the country’s economic output May-June 2017—the lowest level on record. In 34 states, spending (adjusted for inflation) was lower last year than in 2007 and public construction spending in June 2017 was 9.5 percent lower than in June 2016.
Currently, the average road surface was 28 years old in 2015. The largest category of public works, road construction accounts for about a third of all public construction spending.
The largest source of funding for road construction is the federal gas tax which is currently set at 18.4 cents per gallon which has not been indexed to inflation nor has been raised since 1993. To restore its buying power, the gas tax would need to be raised to 31 cents per gallon.
If we cannot fund roads properly for current bridges, highways, roads and streets, why should we spend the money for future infrastructure improvements that the majority of citizens will not really be using for perhaps another 15 to 20 to 30 years down the road?
What is the priority here?
Fixing our roads so that we can drive or preparing roads for autonomous vehicles to talk to each other?
Do we really have the funds to do both?
If we don’t provide the infrastructure for the car of the future beginning soon, does that stymie its potential or will researchers have to come up with a better way for AVs to navigate our bridges, highways, roads and streets?
Making wild guesses about our transportation future is not what we need presently. We need real solutions to fix transportation problems now and the way to fund transportation needs to be secure for longer periods of time. This might mean raising the federal gas tax and keeping it indexed to inflation plus other funding mechanisms for vehicles that don’t use gas but certainly use the roads.
Also, lawmakers should stop raiding transportation funds for other important needs because funding road infrastructure has become absolutely critical.
Let’s stop dreaming about the future and do something right now to change the tide.
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NMA’s Flipboard Magazine called Car of the Future—Over 50 stories are placed each month in this magazine devoted to the Car of the Future. Stories featured include future car politics, industry news and thought pieces.
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