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Anyone who has ever driven long distance on the interstate highway system or taken a close look at an aging bridge in their town already knows the problem – America’s infrastructure is failing. The nation’s transportation infrastructure is aging rapidly, with the American Society of Civil Engineers estimating that one-third of roads are in mediocre or poor shape, and one out of every four is considered functionally obsolete.

Inside the Washington Beltway, the debate has turned to how the nation can address these deficiencies and make the necessary investments to improve and complete transportation infrastructure. A large focus of the federal stimulus passed in 2009 dealt with transportation improvements. There are also now proposals in the House and Senate for funding these transportation projects, but at the same time there is also debate over just how much the nation should be spending on roads and bridges. An earlier proposal from Pres. Obama to increase funding for high speed rail was met with opposition, with some governors vowing to refuse the funding as they believed it would cost too much to keep up programs. There is support now for dropping federal transportation programs entirely and allowing states to fund the programs themselves.

Though the debate continues, political and infrastructure experts agree that the problem is large and imminent investments are needed to make repairs. Two commissions mandated by Congress studied the problem over the last five years, each concluding that funding for highway and public transportation projects must be increased. A report from the Brookings Institution released in 2011 showed that the nation risked losing the improvements that had come from the nation’s original build-up of its road system decades ago. These improvements – higher quality of life that came from shorter commutes, cleaner air and greater livability of neighborhoods – were crumbling as roads and bridges were. The report suggested using all revenue from the federal gas tax toward repairing and enhancing existing roads rather than being used for new construction. It also recommended creating a Federal Highway Bank that could funnel funding to states for building and expanding roads.