Following World War II, America began an exciting journey that brought its citizens wealth and prosperity never before seen in human history. Growth and development in the highway era provided an unprecedented standard of living for families, reflecting incentives that valued quantity of space and autonomy and disfavored the physical and social connections of town life.
Three generations into this model, we find ourselves struggling to maintain and afford this growth pattern. Consider a few key facts:
- The American Society of Civil Engineers released a report in 2009 giving the nation’s infrastructure a ‘D’ grade and identifying $2.2 trillion in repairs and upgrades that are needed over the next five years. For context, this is over $29,000 in the next five years for a family of four just to catch up. In the meantime, our infrastructure continues to deteriorate.
- The Minnesota Department of Transportation has announced that, over the next 20 years, they have $65 billion in needed transportation improvements and just $15 billion in anticipated revenue. Such a drastic imbalance - which would require a gas tax increase of a dollar per gallon or more to fund in the current system – indicates not surging demand but a system that has artificially expanded beyond our reasonable ability to maintain.
- In 2010, the Minnesota legislature is expected to consider between $3 billion and $4 billion in bonding requests. The final amount borrowed for capital improvements will likely be less than $1 billion. Much of the unfunded project list will include maintenance and replacement of existing infrastructure systems.
- The Minnesota Public Facilities Authority has a Project Priority List for water and wastewater improvement projects that is used to allocate resources. For 2009, the list contained over $2 billion in funding requests compared to just $114 million in actual funds available.
We have grown inefficiently, beyond any reasonable means we have to maintain the infrastructure systems we have created.
America will not have continued prosperity with this pattern of growth. We must commit to casting a bright light on the relationship between our land use patterns and our long-term financial viability. We need to gather the will to execute efficient land use. Our failure to do so will lead to costs that diminish our choices and constrain the opportunities of all Americans.
America has grown for generations on the premise, “If you build it, they will come.” It is time to consider the reality this thinking has created.