FHWA/FTA Release Biennial “Conditions & Performance” Report

January 18, 2017

The Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration on January 12 jointly released the biennial “Conditions and Performance Report” that updates policymakers on the conditions, performance and financial needs of the nation’s highway, bridge and mass transit systems. The report (dated 2015) is here and links to previous reports dating back to 1999 are here. The public release was a bit belated – the hard copy was actually sent to Congress on December 16.

The timing and numbering of these reports is also a bit confusing. One federal law (23 U.S.C. §503(b)(8)) requires DOT to submit the highway and bridge C&P report by July 31 of every odd-numbered year, but 49 U.S.C. 308(3) requires DOT to submit the mass transit C&P report in March of every even-numbered year. So instead, we get a joint report that shows up every two to three years whenever it shows up. This is the kind of inconsistency you get when different modes in the same Department answer to different Senate committees. (Ed. Note: This is why we can’t have nice things.)

The C&P reports are also somewhat confusing because they tend to only speak of the financial needs of the system in terms of the total financial contribution from all levels of government – federal, state and local – which vary year to year and which are always subject to finger-pointing as to which level of government is shortchanging the others. This makes it impossible for federal policymakers to look at the C&P report and pull out a specific number of set of numbers that says “this is the amount of money the federal government needs to be spending to do x.”

And there is one other oddity that applies only to the new C&P report and the one immediately previous. Because the new report uses the final spending levels that were outlaid in fiscal year 2012 by all levels of government as the “base case” spending scenario, these numbers are automatically thrown off by the one-time federal spending on highways and transit from the 2009 ARRA stimulus law, which were still supplementing regular federal spending and somewhat crowding out state and local dollars. The report estimates that 9 percent of the transit capital outlays in FY12 were from ARRA and about 3 percent of highway/bridge capital outlays were ARRA.

This was down significantly from the FY 2010 numbers used in the previous C&P report (2010 was peak ARRA outlay season), but it still contributed to a system where all levels of government were actually spending more money in 2012 on highways and transit than are needed to simply maintain current conditions and system performance at the 2012 levels. For example, for highways and bridges, all levels of government need to spend $79.0 billion per year on the federal-aid system in 2012 inflation-adjusted dollars in order to maintain spending at the 2012 levels – almost $10 billion more than the $69.3 billion per year they need to spend to simply maintain conditions and performance at the 2012 levels. (They need to spend a lot more – $107.9 billion per year – to build out all projects where the benefit-cost ratio exceeds 1.0.)

The report also features top-notch infographics like these, which describe changes over the ten-year 2002-2012 period on the entire highway/bridge system, including non-federal-aid roads and bridges:

Transit system and funding numbers are reported differently, in part because there is no designated federal-aid mass transit system that is legally distinct from all mass transit in the U.S.

In this case, the new report tries to deflect attention from the fact that the total spending on mass transit capital investment in 2012 ($17.0 billion) is also the amount of ARRA-inflated money that was actually spent in 2012 that they divide the $17.0 billion in 2012 spending into system preservation ($9.9 billion) and system expansion ($7.1 billion) and then trying to balance the numbers for the system preservation backlog (estimated at $89.8 billion in 2012) against the SGR maintenance scenario and two growth rate scenarios. (Just look a the infographic; it’s glorious.)

There is much more – an incredible amount of data, really – in the full report.

(Ed. Note: the full C&P report is one of those federal reports that is so long and complicated that there is a separate 13-page Highlights section for those of you whose attention span has been shortened by TV and the Internet to the point that you can’t focus long enough to read the entire 46-page Executive Summary.)


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