Federal Infrastructure Grants: The Historical Trends

On the cusp of a new infrastructure proposal from the White House, how has federal spending changed over the last 70 years? What will it take to reach historical averages?

1 minute read

May 21, 2017, 11:00 AM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc

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Dan Backman / flickr

Following up on this article published for Infrastructure Week last year, Jeff Davis takes a look at federal infrastructure spending with an eye for what it would take to match historical levels. For the most part, these numbers look at federal grants as a percentage of total U.S. GDP.

Some highlights from the latter half of the 20th century include the 1956 Interstate Highway law, tripling infrastructure grants as a share of GDP, as well as the 1972 Clean Water Act, "which provided an at-the-time staggering amount of $18 billion in general fund contract authority for sewer grants, and the 1970 and 1974 mass transit laws."

Davis notes that the apparent decline in water grants during the 1980s is misleading: "in 1987, the Clean Water Act switched away from making sewer grants to localities and instead started using federal money to endow state revolving funds to make low-interest loans to localities."

Today, Davis concludes, "equivalent total spending to hit the 1957-1986 average would be $92 billion per year, the total spending to maintain the average of the last 30 years (1987-2016) would be $69 billion per year, and the total spending to maintain the average spending level of the last 60 years would be $80.7 billion per year."

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