A recent article in the Economist Magazine, “For a country where everyone drives, America has shoddy roads” examined the funding gap with America’s Infrastructure.
The article canvassed the build periods of US transport infrastructure – the 1930’s during the Great Depression and the 1950’s and 1960’s boom following World War 2. Interestingly, New Zealand had the same build trend, and relatively we are facing the same issues.
What I found most instructive with the article was the chart showing the percentage of GDP invested in roads by different countries. Although it is 2011 data, and road investment has already increased from that in many countries, it makes for an interesting comparison.
Australia (1.3% of GDP) and Canada (1.2% of GDP) lead the investment levels. New Zealand is not far behind (0.7% of GDP). USA investment is 0.5% of GDP and Britain 0.3% GDP.
I know from discussions with colleagues working in Australia and Canada (and from government enquiries and reports) that there are still significant backlogs of investment in Australia and Canada.
The consensus in Australia and Canada is that road and bridge standards and service levels are drifting lower, particularly in rural areas. Yet these two counties lead the investment as a percentage of GDP in 2011.
In New Zealand, since 2011 the road investment has increased, and we are currently re-examining spend priorities and continuing to look for efficiencies in service delivery, and realignment of investment to meet changing priorities.
New Zealand has relatively few expressways or highways at Interstate (US) or M (UK) standard and the New Zealand Government is continuing to invest capital to build out the expressway network. This will show in future percentage of GDP analysis, as New Zealand continues to develop it’s roading networks.
I know from discussions with UK colleagues that since 2011 the UK road investment levels have contracted further from an already low base. In comparison with other countries it seems probable that in the medium term this will not be sustainable, and investment levels will need to increase again.
Having attended the TRB Asset Management Conference in Miami on 28-30 April 2014, I am very aware of the concerns of US transportation engineers around the sustained level of investment in US transportation infrastructure. The recent 2013 Report Card on US Infrastructure (ASCE) gives roads a score of D and bridges C+.
As the Economist article notes the US has issues with the funding sustainability of the Federal Highway Trust Fund, and this is leading to a range of alternative funding solutions being explored, including State Funding and private infrastructure partnership funding.
At a macro level the question will be, what percentage of GDP provides sustainable road service provision at the levels and standards required? The Economist article certainly assists in providing some inter-country comparisons.
The application of infrastructure asset management planning, as required in the US by MAP-21 will certainly provide information to frame the debate around the level of road and bridge investment required.
We have found here in NZ that having long term investment requirements set out in asset management plans has assisted in robust debate at all levels of government.
Translating the infrastructure asset management investment requirements analysis and debate into investment funding will take more time, but given the problems facing US infrastructure and the growing political awareness of the issue, greater investment funding is sure to follow.