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Sunday, February 8. 2015
Do we really need more roads, highways, and bridges? And if we do, what does the federal government have to do with it? In my humble view, most government infrastructure is a disguised subsidy for somebody or something.
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James Robertson - The man who was walking 21 miles daily to work has been surprised with a new car
Stupidly wide streets aren't necessary, but the development (3/4 acre lots) has narrow straight streets shared by cars, pedestrians, and cyclists. It can be a mess. My 12 mile commute to work is on a US highway trying to be a highway, main street, residential street, and bike trail. It does them all poorly. We do need to maintain our infrastructure, but I do think we spend far to much on any improvements. Four years locally to widen (2 to 4 lanes) and install sidewalks on a 5 miles of local road at millions per mile. They're spending $21M on an overpass at a busy intersection, over almost two years. It's drainage, piles of dirt, a bridge, and pavement. Seems pricey to me. Seems we just need to find the right balance between capability and cost.
I guess we could go back to the good old days of limited infrastructure. https://www.youtube.com/embed/nq2jY1trxqg?rel=0
(1920 Dodge driving to an oil rig.)
Less infrastructure means fewer people and less agricultural and industrial production. If you want less infrastructure you have to reduce the country to what it was prior to WW II. Actually, that would be a good thing, especially if all our social and cultural "improvements" were rolled back, too.
The US population has almost doubled since the beginning of the Interstate Highway System. Our transportation infrastructure especially has not kept pace with population. That is why Mark is complaining about congestion.
It also turns out that highways are the cheapest way to transport people in terms of $/passenger mile and the cleanest in terms of emissions per passenger mile. This is especially true of carbon dioxide.
Much of our transportation budget is wasted on extremely expensive, low usage light and heavy rail commuter trains, when buses clearly outperform trains by any measure, especially in reducing congestion. Some rail systems, like trolleys, actually create congestion. Anyone who has ever driven in a city with trolleys knows how dangerous they are and how they clog streets.
The Antiplanner, who happens to be a train buff, is an expert on transportation and has published numerous articles explaining the relative costs and effectiveness of various transport modes. He can find him at,
There is no argument for less infrastructure that is not an argument for fewer people. If I am the sole person choosing whom to eliminate, I'll go down that road with you, but you yourself might not make it all the way.
Some kinds of infrastructure, like freight railroads, can be handled by private industry, but federal, state and local governments have roles to play, especially in local surface streets and river/canal systems like the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi.
First, define "infrastructure". Local project (FFX Cty Pkw) budget blew up over "paths", "trails", and other "improvements" more that were dumped into the budget.
The latest is that somewhere around 60% of road monies actually go to roads.
A few years back there ws $5 million effort to widen 12th street in Salem Oregon. They were going to add left hand turn lanes and widen it to two lanes each direction. It is a main route into and out of town and a traffic problem during rush hour. Some of the residents along 12th street complained and they seemed to have an inside track to power. So the construction did take place, the $5 million was spent. The union workers did get to work at exorbitant wages untl the entire $5 million was gone. But in the end the entire length of 12th street is one lane each direction (before the construction part of it was two lane each direction). The traffic is still bad and the money was wasted. Well, not wasted we do have a Democrat governor and legislature and court system thanks to the unions. But most of the money came from the federal government (thanks to our Democrat congressmen) and it was simply wasted. This is what happens to the money in the infrastructure budget; it is used to buy off the union votes.
I'm convinced that much of it is giveaways to unions and excuses to spend money. How about the towns just fix the potholes and repave with the best available asphalt every decade or so?
The light rail project in Minnesota cost $1 billion to build. Ride tickets are not enough to even pay the cost of maintenance and operation much less the return of capital of $1billion. It is a black hole that only produces more debt. When the I35 bridge collapsed (due to original design mistakes and not maintenance) they mandated that the bridge replacement be wide enough to provide a base for more light rail. Politicians have NO respect for taxpayers or taxpayer money...hogs at the trough. They seem to be trying to duplicate the corruption of the Boston big dig or the L.A. I105 spending fiasco.
I saw an article in the last year (wish I could find it) that actually analyzed all of the "crumbling infrastructure and failing bridges". Most of the bridges considered in need of immediate repair by count were one-lane rural stream crossings, mainly in the agricultural mid-west. But a bridge is a bridge so the statistics can be used to justify replacing The Whitestone with plenty of Chinese steel and union labor.
Given our economic state, I don't have that much of a problem with infrastructure projects if they serve a real need, if they will boost efficiency and American competitiveness, if they are not just to create make work feather-bedding jobs, if they won't be obsolete before they are done, and if they don't just benefit the few. For example: Interstate Highway System or During the Depression there was an effort to replant the great plains to contain the Dustbowl and preserve our most valuable asset of all, top soil. That and the effort to retrain farmers in soil conservation benefits us all, even today.
If this is a build it and investment will come? Color me skeptical. It won’t accomplish what the Interstate Highway did in the 50s; it’s not like it’s breaking new ground; it’s just maintenance of a preexisting infrastructure. Granted that maintenance is important and needs to be done, just don’t look for it to be a stimulus or a driver of economic activity. In fact I suspect we have an excess of infrastructure or that it is in the wrong places, what with all those roads connecting to empty factories and malls. Yeah, remember when schools, traffic lights, public safety, sanitation were paid for by industries through local property taxes,……just one more thing are betters gave away, but for our own good.
The article is a bit disjointed, starting by talking about the highway trust fund and then switching cold-turkey to residential streets.
The new developments have 90'+ diameter cul-de-sacs and 36'+ road widths because that is what the fire-department has convinced the towns and roads departments are needed to safely access an emergency, and then turn around to efficiently exit to a more important emergency.
I've lived in southern towns where the population was growing rapidly, and it makes lots of sense there to be ahead of that development with arterial roads that won't have traffic equal to their capacity for a decade -- it is much cheaper to build a road when the only thing in the way is crops. It is also much easier to expand a road when all the traffic will be accommodated without slowdown in a single lane.
I've also lived in New England where a town gave-in to the siren call of federal money to build a "connector" road that essentially required blasting a mountain out of the way. The connector and the street I lived on together became a "rat run" for heavy trucks shortcutting from one US highway going north to another US highway going west, bypassing a city center. The neighbors petitioned for a truck-restriction. The town sheepishly replied "well, we applied for free state and federal money to repave your road, but to get it we had to claim it was an essential thru-route. We didn't expect people to start using it as one".
Currently live in a town where 80% of the road miles are unpaved but very well maintained, and the town leaders are determined to keep it that way.
Here in Illinois, the state mandates a poorly performing asphalt mix be used for their work. It keeps the road crews working, which pleases certain campaign contributors. The asphalt plants don't get enough business from the municipalities to justify a short run of better asphalt, so everyone uses the poor mix. Viola, perpetual road maintenance. The fact that the roads undergo freeze/thaw cycles only adds to the cost. As is said around here, we only have two seasons: winter and construction.