Avoiding Past Infrastructure Mistakes
President Trump’s extensive infrastructure package, totaling $1 trillion, much of which would be financed by the private sector, has been featured this month by the White House. There will be substantial debates about how much to actually spend, and which projects to endorse.
Business Insider notes that a repair backlog of about $90 billion exists on mass transit facilities, a figure expected to grow substantially. Population growth will exacerbate the problem.
A significant look should be taken at how Obama failed at this crucial task, to avoid a repeat of his costly errors.
The prior Administration spent an incredible $825 billion on a stimulus program that failed to address vital national needs. Middle class jobs deteriorated, (Obamacare was significantly to blame) the national debt doubled, more businesses failed than opened, national security worsened, and America’s infrastructure continued to crumble. Astonishingly, Obama declared that he had difficulty finding “shovel ready jobs”—despite the findings of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) that the nation’s roads, bridges, tunnels and airports rate only a D+. The 2017 ASCE analysis, which is quite similar to its prior studies, notes that over 55,000 bridges are structurally deficient. ASCE estimates that transportation problems cost each household $3,100 in lost income.
Much of Obama’s stimulus funding went to failed “green” organizations such as Solyndra, and politically-friendly sources, rather than infrastructure needs.
But it’s not just federal mistakes that need to be avoided. Cities and states continue to finance efforts that not only divert funds from worthwhile projects, but actually make transportation issues worse.
A salient example is the development of bike lanes on roads. This program, which has widespread popularity, slows down vehicular traffic, is used by only the smallest fraction of commuters, poses a danger both to bikers and motorists (bikers, exempt from vehicular licensing and insurance requirements, frequently ignore traffic rules) and does almost nothing for the environment.
Some rapid-rail projects that fail to take into account expense factors have cost taxpayers extraordinary sums while accomplishing little. Robert Samuelson, writing in the Washington Post, notes:
Somehow, it’s become fashionable to think that high-speed trains connecting major cities will help ‘save the planet.’ They won’t. They’re a perfect example of wasteful spending masquerading as a respectable social cause. They would further burden already overburdened governments and drain dollars from worthier programs…
A Congressional Research Service report found that these types of efforts face many challenges, and urged Congress to consider whether they are worthwhile investments.
Many riders note that use of intercity rail lines are prohibitively expensive.
In contrast, there has been inadequate attention paid to the restoration of neglected freight lines, which if restored, could dramatically reduce road congestion and the resulting air pollution. Some urban areas, such as New York City, have less rail freight access than existed in the early 20th Century. Abandoned freight lines have, in some cases, been turned into public parks.
In addition to transportation, the Trump proposal includes the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline and similar projects, which are expected to be a safer alternative than trucking energy supplies, as well as reducing congestion on major roads.
To insure that the necessary work is not delayed by the traditional bureaucratic delays, the President issued an executive order expediting the environmental review process. There is speculation that a key incentive for that move was the necessity of rapidly protecting the nation’s electrical grid, endangered by a potential electromagnetic pulse assault either from a nuclear blast or a solar incident, similar to that which last occurred in the 1850’s and which astronomers believe is now overdue. This exceptionally urgent task was not addressed during the Obama Administration.
A potential drawback to the White House plan was recently noted by Ted Mann in a Wall Street Journal article.
President Donald Trump’s plan to tap the private sector to rebuild $1 trillion worth of roads, bridges and rails has encountered an early problem: geography.
While development projects in densely populated areas may prove attractive to private sector financing because they could provide a timely return on investment, those in rural areas may not offer the same inducement. Some of those expressing doubts on the ability of securing private financing of rural area projects are Trump’s fellow Republican elected officials, including Kansas Senator Jerry Moran.
The doubling of the national debt during the Obama Administration, with no appreciable addressing of national needs, sharply hinders Washington’s ability to meet the growing and crucial infrastructure needs facing the U.S.
Originally published on the New York Analysis of Policy and Government.
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