How This Year’s Never-Ending Winter Is Worsening Our Infrastructure Crisis

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This year’s winter has long overstayed its welcome, burying much of the eastern United States in snow and single-digit temperatures. The unusually stormy season has also taken a heavy toll on the nation’s aging roads, the Atlantic Cities reports. Dozens of cities are grappling with a huge spike in potholes, straining already tight infrastructure budgets.

Months of constant freezing, thawing, plowing, and salting has created the perfect conditions for potholes all over the country. So far this year, Chicago has eaten up about a third of its pothole budget to fill about 250,000 potholes — a 150 percent increase from last year. New York City reports similar numbers. Smaller cities like Indianapolis, Providence, and Minneapolis are also finding that virtually every road has sustained some damage.

The brutal winter has only added to an urgency that has been mounting steadily as roads deteriorate. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave American roads a D grade in 2013, and estimated that pockmarked roads cost the average driver about $1,000 in annual car damage. Meanwhile, traffic has only become more congested and therefore more burdensome on roads. Yet in many municipalities, the money simply isn’t there to keep up with the damage.

Particularly in Republican-controlled states, infrastructure spending is hobbled by the fact that raising tolls or the gas tax have become a politically toxic proposal. The federal gas tax has remained at the same level since 1997, putting the Highway Trust Fund in a near-constant state of crisis. Seventeen states have gone at least 20 years without raising their gas taxes, and more lose revenue every year because the tax is not tied to inflation. As a result, the U.S. is only meeting a fraction of the necessary repairs and updates. President Obama recently unveiled a sweeping plan to devote more than $300 billion to infrastructure needs, but even if that sum makes it through Congress, it will fall short of what’s needed.