Declining Transportation Infrastructure Is Affecting the Economy

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has released nationwide and state-by-state Transportation Performance Indexes which suggests there’s been a significant decline over the last five years in how America’s transportation infrastructure is serving the needs of domestic commerce, international trade and the overall U.S. economy.

“The performance of the nation’s transportation system is not keeping pace with the rate of growth of the demands on that system,” claims Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “As our economy recovers, the nation’s transportation infrastructure must be prepared to meet the projected growth in freight and population. In fact, a 10-point improvement in the new national transportation index could generate 3% more growth in the nation's Gross Domestic Product. Our index, however, shows that from now through 2015 there will be a rapid decline in the performance of the system if we continue business as usual. Right now we’re on an unsustainable path.”

National Index
The annual Transportation Performance Index combines indicators of supply (availability), quality of service (reliability, predictability, safety) and utilization (potential for future growth) across all modes of passenger and freight transportation—highway, public transportation, freight railroad, aviation, marine and intermodal—to show how well the U.S. transportation system is serving the needs of businesses and the overall U.S. economy.

The national index was 51.24 in 2008, which is a slight improvement from 50.74 in 2007. However, the moving average, which smoothes the annual variations, reveals a downward trend from 2003 to 2008, demonstrating that the performance of the U.S. transportation system is not keeping pace with the demands on that system. The index covers the time period from 1990 to 2008, the last year for which national-level date is available. Over this period the index—or the performance of our transportation system—increased only about 6% while U.S. population during that time period grew 22%, passenger travel grew 39%, and freight traffic grew 27%.

“The bottom line is this: Our nation’s deteriorating infrastructure is placing a major drag on our economic growth,” says Donohue. “We must focus on improving the way transportation delivers for business, removing barriers to maintaining, modernizing and expanding our nation’s transportation infrastructure, and driving increased public and private investment.”

State-by-State Index
The 2007 state results range from 85.12 for North Dakota to 35.08 for the District of Columbia. While the District of Columbia is somewhat of an anomaly, New Jersey has the next lowest index with a value of 46.71. Higher population growth rates and higher population densities are generally associated with lower index value based on an analysis of state results versus population data. While this warrants more rigorous analysis, a closer examination of the states with an index value of less than 60 reveals that these states experience significant pressure in terms of population growth, high levels of development, and limited access to or aging infrastructure.

A highly ranked state like North Dakota cannot afford to ignore the importance of pressures on the transportation system in states like New Jersey. For example, to double U.S. exports by 2015, the nation’s transportation system as a whole must work efficiently to get U.S. products to the world’s markets.

“The gap between the national index and the best performing states is 20 points wide,” Donohue points out. “We’re leaving $1 trillion on the table in GDP by not getting the most bang for the buck out of our transportation system. If we don’t head off that decline, we’re taking money out of every American’s pocket.”

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