A Low Return on Investment

Last week I attended a presentation by Rob Puentes of the Brookings Institute that was part of the economic development series sponsored by PSU and Metro.

Puentes’ topic was national policy on infrastructure investment and his message was pretty stark: we’re wasting our transportation dollars. Puentes has analyzed the return on investment for our transportation investments. In the era of the initial construction of the Interstate Highway System, the returns were excellent. Since then, the payback has continually declined.

Puentes makes the point that transportation dollars are now essentially allocated as pork with each Congressional District getting their share of the pot. There is no prioritization.

In particular, Puentes points out that metropolitan regions are the economic drivers of our economy, but transportation investments are often concentrated outside of metro areas. This is true in Oregon as well. Only about half of the gas tax dollars generated in the Portland Metro area come back to the region. The rest are spent elsewhere in the state.

Libby Tucker of the Daily Journal of Commerce has an interview with Puentes.

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