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Road to Nowhere: Scorecard on U.S. Transportation Infrastructure

June 14, 2012
Council on Foreign Relations

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With the current highway bill set to expire on June 30th, time is running out for Congress to extend federal funding for U.S. transportation infrastructure.

CFR's Renewing America initiative's new infographic on federal transportation policy—the first of an ongoing series on U.S. economic competitiveness—maps where the United States is being outpaced, how this affects U.S. economic strength, and why the United States needs to develop innovative funding solutions.

A more detailed assessment is outlined in an accompanying progress report by Rebecca Strauss, associate director of CFR's Renewing America publications.

"Pending federal legislation would do little to address the country's transportation infrastructure problem," Strauss explains. "With fewer federal dollars, state and local governments, in partnership with the private sector, will be forced to take the lead to find innovative ways to meet the country's long-term infrastructure investment needs."

Moreover, federal policy is paralyzed by partisan wrangling over massive bills, writes Scott Thomasson, president of NewBuild Strategies LLC, in a related Renewing America Policy Innovation Memorandum.

Both Thomasson and Strauss recommend that Congress unlock state and private investment by reducing borrowing costs and giving states flexibility to pursue alternative financing sources. "Billions of dollars to finance new infrastructure could be raised every year from private-sector capital and untapped revenue sources like tolls and user fees," writes Thomasson.

Today's favorable environment of low long-term interest rates and depressed construction costs will not last indefinitely, Strauss warns. "Stronger economic growth in the future will depend heavily on the decisions made today."

Read the Renewing America progress report and scorecard "Road to Nowhere: Federal Transportation Infrastructure Policy"

Read Scott Thomasson's full plan in "Encouraging U.S. Infrastructure Investment"

Renewing America is a special project launched in connection with CFR's 90th anniversary. The Renewing America initiative is supported in part by a generous grant from the Bernard and Irene Schwartz Foundation.

Additional Resources:

"The First Renewing America Progress Report and Scorecard: The Road to Nowhere," a blog by CFR's Edward Alden

"Finding Infrastructure Solutions, Big and Small," an op-ed by Scott Thomasson (The Hill)

Blog: Renewing America

"U.S. Rail Infrastructure," a Renewing America Backgrounder by Elizabeth Dovell (CFR.org Contributor)

"Atlanta's Water War is First in a Gathering Flood," an op-ed by CFR's Peter Orszag (Bloomberg.com)

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