Domino’s is repairing roads, and experts say it reveals a troubling trend in American spending

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Domino’s

  • This week, Domino’s announced that it has started paying construction crews to fill potholes in towns across the US. The goal, according to the food-delivery giant, is to protect its pizzas.
  • Experts say the initiative is part of a wider trend of companies taking over the upkeep of civic services traditionally funded by government.
  • Infrastructure spending as a percentage of the nation’s GDP has fallen to the lowest level in decades, according to the US Census Bureau.

Domino’s is on a mission to fix America’s roads.

This week, the pizza chain announced that it is paying construction crews to fill potholes in towns across the US, with the goal of protecting its pizzas from bumps.

“We don’t want to lose any great-tasting pizza to a pothole, ruining a wonderful meal,” Russell Weiner, president of Domino’s USA, said in a statement. “Domino’s cares too much about its customers and pizza to let that happen.”

Domino’s has already worked with several cities, including Burbank, California (five holes remedied), Bartonville, Texas (eight holes), and Milford, Delaware (40 holes). In Athens, Georgia, Domino’s fixed an astounding 150 potholes.

The effort, ambitious as it may be, highlights the sad state of government spending on civic services.

Road repairs like these are typically the responsibility of the government, paid for by federal gas taxes and local or state tolls. However, national public construction spending as a percentage of the GDP has fallen to the lowest level in decades, according to the US Census Bureau.

Eric Norenberg, the city manager of Milford, said Delaware welcomes the pizza chain’s efforts. In recent years, the state has seen federal public-works funding decline as its roads get worse.

“Facing an already harsher winter than usual for Delaware, this is an opportunity to get additional money to stretch our city’s limited resources,” he said in a statement.

Norenberg’s statement points to a worrying reality that American cities face as government spending on civic services slows, according to Kristina Swallow, the president of the American Society of Civil Engineers.

The poor quality of the nation’s roads has seen little improvement in the past decade, a consequence Swallow attributes to the government’s chronic underinvestment in infrastructure. The ASCE estimates the US currently has a $836 billion backlog of highway, bridge, and road capital needs.

“The trend that is troubling is that companies including Domino’s … and citizens feel compelled to pick up the slack on this government responsibility, because potholes have gotten so ubiquitous,” she told Business Insider. “People are understandably fed up.”

In recent years, this trend has gone beyond road repairs to other civic services like healthcare, affordable housing, and fresh food access – things that are usually heavily funded by the government rather than by corporations.

The crowdfunding site GoFundMe now has an entire section devoted to campaigns for people who can’t afford medical procedures or prescriptions. As Quartz notes, out of the $2 billion raised through the platform between 2010 and early 2016, $930 million was for healthcare-related campaigns.

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is also constructing affordable residential developments to assuage housing concerns, typically addressed by HUD through subsidies. Since 2008, the tech giant has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in equity for several low-income housing projects in California and the Midwest.

Alphabet and other large corporations have taken advantage of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs) to build these units. (Since the program’s creation in 1986, LIHTCs have helped finance more than 2.4 million affordable rental units across the US.) Alphabet is also spending at least $30 million to build affordable housing for 300 of its employees.

Similarly, the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps provide groceries to the 43 million Americans who can’t afford them. But in recent years, several large companies, including Starbucks, Panera Bread, and Target, have stepped up by donating excess items to local food banks.

These initiatives, as well as Domino’s pothole efforts, raise questions about the roles the government and corporations should play to make cities safer and more equitable.

“What we ultimately need is those companies, and citizens, to tell Congress and their local elected leaders they want to see improvements and are willing to pay for them,” Swallow said.