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Don’t waste money on a wall, when our roads and bridges are crumbling

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On the campaign trail, Donald Trump promised to build a border wall that would not cost U.S. taxpayers a dime. Now he is threatening to shut down the federal government (and by default, the services it provides to the American public) if Congress doesn’t commit to funding a wall that the large majority of their constituents don’t want. Meanwhile, the infrastructure spending that nearly 70 percent of Americans have voiced their support for — to improve roads, buildings and waterways — is languishing as the president rallies for the wall.

The White House budget director estimated that the wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico would cost between $8 million and $25 million per mile. Taking the median of this estimate and drawing on data from the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, we could construct two to four times the number of new, four-lane highway miles for each mile of border wall, depending on whether they are in urban, suburban or rural areas. Or we could instead use these funds to maintain and improve approximately 2,000 miles of existing roads, for each mile of border wall construction.

{mosads}Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) supports the president’s plan to build the border wall. Is he looking out for constituent needs in his home state? A 2016 report by a nonprofit group indicated that 42 percent of Wisconsin’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, showing signs of deterioration such as rutting, cracks and potholes. The U.S. Department of Transportation reported an even more devastating estimate, finding that 71 percent of Wisconsin roads were in poor or mediocre condition. The American Society of Civil Engineers rated Wisconsin roads the third worst in the nation.


The estimated costs to drivers on Wisconsin roads of this state of disrepair is $2,100 per driver per year in vehicle depreciation, car maintenance and tire wear. That doesn’t include the more frequent and extensive traffic jams and associated costs for those working and trying to do business in Wisconsin. And of even graver concern nationwide is the strong link between poor road conditions and accidents that damage lives and property. Analyses of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data find that poor road conditions are the underlying cause of more than one-third of all highway fatalities. Rural areas, an important base of support for the president, suffer a disproportionately large share of the traffic fatalities tied to the poor quality of our roads.

We have sorely neglected infrastructure spending that could be used for a range of spending priorities identified by the NHTSA, including: wider lanes, median barriers, improved signage and signals, turn lanes, crash cushions, wider shoulders, better alignments and other highway improvements, all of which could save thousands of lives each year. When the additional costs of road accidents such as lost productivity, medical, legal and court costs, emergency service costs, insurance administration costs, property damage, congestion costs and workplace losses are tallied, the sum of these losses linked to the disrepair of our roads reaches approximately $100 billion per year, according to the NHTSA National Center for Statistics and Analysis.

The president appears to be a slow learner. He continues to believe that threatening those who attempt to represent and respond to the public interest will lead them to give into his demands, even when they are inconsistent with what he said on the campaign trail. The border wall is not going to do anything to support the mobility of the American worker and citizen or stoke the engine of this economy, and it is well known that even the people living in border districts can’t see any gains to building the wall. In the same way that many congressional leaders stood fast for the people when they made it clear they did not want to lose their health care benefits, our representatives now need to fight for the right kind of public infrastructure spending.

Carolyn J. Heinrich, Ph.D., is the Patricia and Rodes Hart professor of public policy, education and economics at Vanderbilt University.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Border Congress Donald Trump Donald Trump economy Government Infrastructure Mexico Paul Ryan Paul Ryan United States wall

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