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Infrastructure lacking, study says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Structural decay plagues many of our nation's roads, highways and bridges today, warns an IBISWorld analysis released late last month.

IBISWorld is a Los Angeles-based think tank that analyzes businesses across the country.

The group's recently released study -- "Election Spotlight: Transportation Infrastructure" -- states that more than "half of the country's roads and highways are in poor condition, 70,000 bridges and tunnels are structurally impaired and transit ridership is up an astounding 235 million trips."

The federal Department of Transportation estimates "adequate funding to repair and upgrade the nation's transportation networks is somewhere between $200 billion and $262 billion per year over the next decade," according to the IBISWorld analysis written by Andrea Alegria and Deonta Smith.

President Obama's 2013 budget estimates only $105 billion will be spent annually on transportation improvement over the next decade.

Republican leaders want even less.

The proposed budget recently introduced by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. -- who lost his vice presidential bid but won re-election to his congressional seat -- allocates about 25 percent less.

Between 2013 and 2011, Ryan's budget would spend only $78.7 billion a year on transportation infrastructure, IBISWorld points out.

Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., recently said there are nearly 150,000 deficient and deteriorating bridges throughout the country, including more than 2,500 in West Virginia.

Rahall, the top Democrat on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, said that is "nearly one out of every four bridges in the United States. Think about that."

Rahall urges people to remember the tragic Silver Bridge collapse in Mason County that killed 46 people driving across the Ohio River in 1967.

"Built in 1928, the bridge collapsed that fateful day in December 1967 when it was full of rush-hour holiday traffic. It was a horrific and tragic example of our nation's decaying transportation systems," Rahall said.

The Transportation Assistance Act, passed and signed into law by President Reagan in 1983, created a federal tax on gasoline to create a funding source for public transportation projects.

Many conservatives would like to reduce federal transportation funding dramatically, IBISWorld states, which would shift funding responsibilities to the states.

"Most Democrats," the study states, support "increasing income or other taxes to advance greater federal investments in rail and highway construction projects, which would provide more jobs and update deteriorating structures quickly."

IBISWorld points out that Congress, especially the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, has repeatedly refused to renew federal transportation legislation for five or six years, which Congress routinely had done in the past.

Short-term budgets, some in effect for only a few months, make it more difficult for government and private companies to plan long-term transportation projects.

Republicans also are proposing "a solution that would increase private funding of road, highway and bridge construction in the future," IBISWorld states.

That policy would make drivers pay increased tolls.

"Republican and Democrat views vary widely when it comes to federal funding for transportation," the IBISWorld study points out. "Democrats advocate greater federal investment in rail and highway construction projects, even if it means increasing taxes to pay for them."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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