A s Americans drove to vacations or visited family and friends this summer, they might have noticed that in many states the main roads are smoother, less congested and safer than in the past. That might be hard to believe when you hit a pothole or hear about a collapsed bridge in Washington. But the nation's main roads are actually getting better.
The Reason Foundation recently conducted several studies looking at current road conditions and trends. We compared how much the states are spending, per mile of responsibility, on their state-owned roads, and the resulting condition of their systems on seven key performance indicators. Overall the US has made steady progress in making Interstates smoother, lowering fatality rates, reducing deficient bridges and lowering congestion. Less than one percent of rural Interstates are now rated poor, fatality rates are at historic lows and fewer bridges are rated deficient. Even congestion is lower, although some of that is the economic situation. These improvements were achieved even though road expenditures dropped slightly, by about 0.6 percent, from 2008 to 2009. Our research shows that the US state-owned highway systems have improved on all seven indicators.
Even better, these improvements aren't just a blip. Our review of 20 years of road condition data shows that the improvements have been steady and significant. Over the past two decades all 50 states reduced their fatality rates, saving an estimated 150,000 lives. The percentage of deficient bridges has been cut by 40 percent. And 37 of the 50 states improved their state-owned highways in at least five out of seven key road performance categories.
But the results vary widely by state. Some states are doing very well. North Dakota continues to lead our cost-effectiveness ratings, followed by Kansas, Wyoming, New Mexico and Montana. These are all rural states with little congestion, but they also have thin budgets for road repairs and challenging weather. Some large urban states _ notably Missouri, Texas and Georgia _ are also top-12 performers.
Overall Highway Performance Rank, 2009
Other states are not doing as well. Alaska's road system is rated the least cost-effective in the nation. Alaska is spending about 90 percent of the US average, per mile, on its state-owned roads, but ranks in the 30s and 40s in road condition. Rhode Island (49th), Hawaii (48th), California (47th), New Jersey (46th) and New York (45th) also perform poorly. New Jersey spends $1.2 million per mile on its state-controlled roads, over eight times the national average, but over 16 percent of urban Interstate pavement is rated poor. Almost 80 percent of California's urban Interstates and 63 percent of New Jersey's urban Interstates are congested.
Increasingly, system performance problems seem to be concentrated in a few states. Almost two-thirds of poor-condition rural Interstate mileage is in just five states (California, Alaska, Minnesota, New York, and Colorado). Over half of poor-condition urban Interstate mileage is in just five states (California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Texas). Four states (California, Minnesota, Maryland, and Connecticut) reported more than two-thirds of their urban Interstates congested.
Reason's recent survey of employer views of congestion notes that almost one-third of employers rate congestion as a major or moderate problem at their site.
Twenty states report more than one-fourth of their bridges are deficient, with one state (Rhode Island) reporting more than 50 percent deficient. One state (Montana) reports a fatality rate greater than 2.0 per 100 million vehicle-miles, and nine other states report a rate greater than 1.5 fatalities per 100 million vehicle-miles. Five states (Pennsylvania, Arkansas, West Virginia, Washington, and Virginia) report more than one-fourth of their rural primary mileage with narrow lanes.
A widening gap seems to be emerging between most states that are making progress, and a few states that are finding it difficult to improve. There is also increasing evidence that higher-level road systems (Interstates, other freeways and principal arterials) are in better shape than lower-level road systems, particularly local roads.
The Influence of Congestion
How can our roads be getting better if the infrastructure is 'crumbling'? Periodic catastrophes like the Washington I-5 Skagit River Bridge collapse hold our attention and regular calls to fund roads come from agencies, trade groups and politicians. But the data show that our roads have been getting steadily better for at least 20 years, and one could even make the case that they have never been in better shape. And that doesn't even count the improvements in accessibility and road quality that we just take for granted. Grandma will tell you that your three-hour drive this summer took a whole day just two generations ago.
Site selection managers and business leaders understand the importance of good infrastructure. While good access is generally not the key factor in site selection, many employers see it as a necessary but not sufficient criterion for locating new or expanded facilities. And congestion is a key element of access, in addition to road condition, reliability and links to suppliers and customers. Reason's recent survey of employer views of congestion notes that almost one-third of employers rate congestion as a major or moderate problem at their site.
Congestion also affects regional productivity. Our analysis shows that the removal of severe congestion from the Denver road system would increase access to jobs and population by about 15 percent, leading to a 1.5-percent increase in regional productivity. Of course reducing congestion is a tall order, but there are few government actions that would yield such a dramatic change in regional competitiveness.
Sure, there are lots of problems that still need work. Roads need regular maintenance and repair to remain in good shape. And funds are particularly tight for local governments. Congestion is increasing again as the economy rebounds. Some bridges need work. Fatalities need to be reduced even further. Some states are having trouble keeping up.
To achieve better road performance we need to concentrate on cost-effective actions, not on political whims; remove bottlenecks that constrict both local and long-distance access; adequately fund early maintenance; and understand how road systems and our economy are linked. We should continue to work on these and other problems, but let's not allow them to blur the real progress made so far.
The View from the North
Earlier this summer Site Selection conducted an email interview with the Honorable Denis Lebel, Canada's Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs. The New Building Canada Plan, announced as part of Economic Action Plan 2013, provides approximately C$53.5 billion in new and existing funding for provincial, territorial and municipal infrastructure.
Overall, the Harper Government will invest $70 billion over 10 years, the largest federal investment in job-creating infrastructure in Canadian history.
Site Selection: Describe a few recent or forthcoming port, rail or highway projects that stand to open up substantial economic development opportunity on adjacent or nearby lands.
Minister Lebel: Canada's prosperity and quality of life depend on our success as a trading nation. Today, in an era of rapidly moving global supply chains, our transportation systems must connect Canada with the world.
The Harper Government's pro-trade agenda is focused on deepening links with the Asia-Pacific region. That is why, in 2006, we launched the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative (APGCI), through which we have combined strategic infrastructure investments with policy, operational, and regulatory measures to improve the efficiency and reliability of the supply chain.
In terms of projects supporting further economic development opportunities, I would certainly highlight a few:
First, the Road Rail Utility Corridor (RRUC) project is one that will provide road and rail access, along with electricity, sewer and water utility services, to 1,000 acres of deep-sea port accessible heavy-use industrial land at Ridley Island; land owned by the Port of Prince Rupert [in British Columbia]. This platform supports the future development of deep-sea marine terminals required for the export of Canadian resources to meet the growing demand of Asian markets, including China and India. It will also permit the development of an estimated 70 million tons of export capacity through private-sector investment in new bulk terminals, general cargo terminals, and logistics services in support of Canada's international trade with the Pacific Rim.
Also of note, inland hub developments, often centered around airports or intermodal facilities, have been on the rise in Western Canada in recent years and are key to attracting higher-paying logistics and value-added jobs. Examples include Centreport Canada in Winnipeg and the Global Transportation Hub (GTH) in Regina. Centreport and the GTH are high priorities for the Governments of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, respectively, and the Government of Canada has supported both initiatives through APGCI infrastructure investments.
Ones To Watch
A mong a number of key US projects to watch this year, say the Urban Land Institute and Ernst & Young, are several focused on transit, including the proposed $1.2-billion Atlanta Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal (one possible rendering pictured). The report also notes that, encouraged by transit-oriented development successes in Portland, Ore., "cities across the United States are building small-scale, street-running rail systems to link neighborhoods and provide transit connectivity, among them Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, Charlotte, Arlington (Va.) and Washington, D.C.
"Bosses for Buses," a study released in May 2013 by Good Jobs First, profiles a number of successful examples of employer-backed transit, led by the "eds and meds" institutions often central to center-city economic development. The study found corporate support for transit in America to be "remarkably broad and diverse, but also highly fragmented."
"Public transit is far too important to be left only to those companies that make their business selling to transit agencies," said Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First and lead author of the study. "Far more numerous - and deserving to be heard - are those employers that depend on transit for their work forces. When will they organize nationally?"
Canada's Continental Gateway and Trade Corridor is an integrated transportation system linking Ontario and Quebec to North America and the rest of the world ... The Continental Gateway is also Canada's busiest trade corridor, carrying over 74 percent of Canadian trade by road, train, ship and air. Since 2007, the Harper Government has committed $4 billion in projects that contribute to improving the transportation system in Quebec and in Ontario in support of Canada's international trade. In January 2012, our Government announced an investment up to $15 million over two years to support the construction of a rail link and intermodal rail yard at the Port of Saguenay in Saguenay, Quebec. In February 2012, our Government announced an investment up to $55 million for the construction of a new multi-user deepwater dock at the Port of Sept-Îles equipped with two ship loaders, as well as two conveyor lines. This investment will help the port meet global shipping standards for the iron ore industry, which is the largest commodity shipped through the port to overseas markets.
New York/New Jersey On Top
Jones Lang LaSalle's fifth annual Seaport Outlook, released in July, ranks the most prominent ports in the U.S. (see graph above), this year identifying the availability of industrial real estate surrounding the ports as one of three top features shared by successful ports. The other two top factors include proximity to population density and improved infrastructure. According to the report, there are only 11 available distribution center spaces larger than 500,000 sq. ft. (46,450 sq. m.) within 15 miles (24 km.) of any major seaport. Furthermore, only 23 blocks are available for warehouse space users in need of at least 250,000 sq. ft. (23,225 sq. m.) within 5 miles (8 km.) of a major port.
In March 2011, the Harper Government announced more than $250 million in transportation infrastructure projects supporting the Atlantic Gateway and Trade Corridor. An additional $2.5 million was identified specifically for marketing the Atlantic Gateway; a key priority for increasing international trade through the region. Canada has announced its participation in several infrastructure and intelligent transportation system projects at the Halifax Harbour.
Mexico on the Move
The following is adapted from an English translation of an announcement made earlier this year by the Office of the President of Mexico, augmented by published reports.
President Enrique Peña Nieto announced that during this administration, four trillion pesos [US$311 billion] will be invested in infrastructure projects. The figure encompasses the Transport and Communications Infrastructure Investment Program 2013-2018 and various "investments in other departments and agencies such as Pemex, the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) and the National Water Commission," explained President Peña Nieto. He said that this figure "could eventually increase, pending approval of the Tax Reform included in the Pact for Mexico, which will be submitted to the Chamber of Deputies in September."
The program's approach is multimodal, seeking to improve roads, railways, ports, airports and telecommunications. "It is a comprehensive investment program," he said, "with necessary actions that cannot be postponed to consolidate Mexico as a true emerging economic power in the 21st Century." The program, he said, "is designed to turn Mexico into a major global logistics hub with high added value. He said that the program "will trigger both public and private investment in this sector totaling nearly 1.3 trillion pesos, with just over half of that devoted to telecommunications."
Nieto stressed that the investments will translate into jobs and qualitative changes that will enhance the quality of life of millions of Mexicans, especially in rural areas. "These resources also will be reflected in better railways and more efficient ports to enable Mexican products to have a presence in and be purchased in international markets," he said.
In addition, he said, the program would support "more dynamic airports in order to provide "decent, safe, comfortable spaces that provide a gateway into our country," as well as better Internet access for students and youth, so they can "join the knowledge era, in which the generation of wealth will critically depend on the talent, creativity and ideas of Mexicans."
The president characterized the program as crucial to accelerating economic activity and social development.
"Let's get to work," he said, "because time is short."