I’ve spent most of my adult life as a member of the media. One thing I’ve noticed from my colleagues through the years is that they like to manufacture a good crisis. I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of it a time or two. For example, "we are heading toward a fiscal cliff" sounds so much better than "we are currently experiencing a manageable budget deficit."
The latest crisis du jour is the notion that our state’s roads and bridges are on the verge of collapse unless we act quickly. The thing about a crisis is that it always requires acting quickly. And that quick action typically calls for transferring money out of your pocket into the insatiable pockets of our increasingly bloated state government. So, once again, calls are coming out of Baton Rouge to raise the tax at the gas pump to repair the state’s infrastructure "crisis."
"I think we are pretty much approaching a crisis situation," Louisiana Good Roads and Transportation Association President Ken Perret said.
Louisiana Good Roads and Transportation Association is an organization representing companies that stand to benefit financially if the gas tax increase passes. So it’s no surprise their spokesman would employ the word "crisis" to describe the current condition of our state’s infrastructure.
“The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development's information shows a backlog of about $12-14 billion of now needs. That's not counting future roads and projects that haven't been built yet,” Perret said.
The Federal Highway Administration estimates 14 percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient. But according to the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, a structurally deficient categorization does not mean a bridge is unsafe. A spokesperson with the agency stated in an email to Fox-8 News that the term structurally deficient is "used to identify structures that could qualify for rehabilitation or replacement because of structural related repair needs.” Hardly sounds like a structurally deficient bridge is on the verge of crumbling.
The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave Louisiana a grade of D+ for the condition of its infrastructure. But what else would you expect from an organization representing companies standing to make millions from raising a gas tax?
"It shows you we have aging infrastructure like the rest of the United States, and we have a critical need for funding," American Society of Civil Engineers member Deborah Keller said.
But Keller’s poor grade for Louisiana’s roads and bridges should not come as a surprise. Since 1998, the American Society of Civil Engineers has given the country's infrastructure a grade of no better than "D." Twenty years ago, the group told us the country needed to pony up an additional $1.3 trillion to avoid catastrophe. Last year, that number was $2 trillion.
Warnings of crumbling infrastructure from those who stand to benefit financially are not new and are not isolated to Louisiana. We’re told on a national level that our crumbling infrastructure will require $1.5 trillion to fix.
According to The Investor’s Business Daily, in 1978, the Government Accountability Office reported that the "nation's highways are deteriorating, the Interstates most rapidly.” In 1984, the Transportation Research Board warned that 150,000 bridges were considered structurally deficient. In 1988, the Federal Highway Administration said the country faced a "bridge crisis.” The New York Times ran a piece in 1986 arguing that the "neglect of our crumbling infrastructure is a national disgrace." Twenty-three years later, the Times said that "U.S. infrastructure is in dire straits.”
The good news for taxpayers is the crisis narrative never did lead to the massive increase in infrastructure spending the fearmongers called for. In fact, over the past 40 years, total federal, state and local government spending on infrastructure has remained right around 2.5 percent of GDP.
It is certainly true some of Louisiana’s roads and bridges need repair. Especially in New Orleans, where years of incompetency at City Hall has led to some of the worst streets in the country. And it’s also true the state’s gas tax hasn’t been raised in 30 years. And it very well may be time to do so again. But do we have a road and bridge crisis in Louisiana? Hardly.
Email Dan Fagan at firstname.lastname@example.org.