RAND Corporation attests fixes needed, but US infrastructure not wholly broken

Hitting back at dire warnings of an infrastructure funding and finance collapse, a new RAND Corporation study concludes that a national consensus on the best path forward, along with targeted spending and policies are all that might be needed.

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This applies to both transportation and water infrastructure funding in the United States. While both have come under fire in recent years, RAND found that much of the nation’s infrastructure therein is “adequately” maintained and that a mere 2.5 to 3 percent increase in annual spending at all levels would eliminate backlogs by 2030. Current annual spending by local, state, and federal agencies in this area currently sit at more than $235 billion.

“Spreading federal dollars around to fund short-term, ‘shovel-ready’ projects without a sense of national purpose or priority will not get the nation where it needs to be,” Debra Knopman, lead author of the report and a principal researcher at RAND, said. “The federal government should focus on maintaining and modernizing vital federal infrastructure and on targeting nationally significant projects that are beyond the capacity of individual states and cities.”

To do more than merely maintain, though, RAND notes that a much broader attempt would need to be made. Priorities in spending would have to be shifted regionally, as well as between urban and rural areas, to account for varying priorities. Pointing out that state and local governments already bear much of the burden to maintain these systems, RAND researchers concluded in “Not Everything Is Broken: The Future of U.S. Transportation and Water Infrastructure Funding and Finance,” that the federal government would need to be more active in financing, regulatory improvements, and R&D.

While that could take a number of different forms–be it directly or through alterations of the tax code–RAND said that state and local governments need sustained access to capital. Its study also pointed to the pursuit of new technologies to support modern construction efforts, as well as the use of more durable and sustainable materials as means of aiding current efforts.