Tag: Development

Light Rail To Nowhere

There’s a nifty little article at the WaPo disputing the notion that America’s infrastructure is falling apart. Sample quote, on the ‘D’ the ASCE gives our roads:

while that D from the American Society of Civil Engineers is undoubtedly sincere, the organization has a vested interest in greater infrastructure spending, which means more work for engineers. The engineers’ lobby has given America’s infrastructure a D in every one of its report cards going back to 1998, except for 2001, when the mark was D-plus.

Lane, it should be noted, is not disputing the notion that our infrastructure needs maintenance and support. He’s disputing the claim that the country is literally falling apart. He also disputes the idea that infrastructure is necessarily a great economic stimulus:

Top-notch though it is, the U.S. infrastructure could use an upgrade; by their very nature, roads, bridges and the rest require constant maintenance. The effort could boost both current employment and the economy’s capacity to grow in the future.

But it’s not just a matter of turning on the money tap and letting it flow. Though roads, rails and levees represent huge, upfront capital expenditures, the long-term benefits are often difficult to calculate objectively. The whole business is fraught with uncertainty, trade-offs and pork-barrel politics.

Nor are the economics of public works simple. After its economic bubble burst, Japan tried to restart growth with more than $6 trillion in infrastructure spending between 1991 and 2008. It ended up with little to show for it but a swollen national debt and lots of bridges to nowhere.

Infrastructure spending has a horrific tendency to ignore potholes and failing bridges in favor of massive Davis-Bacon-inflated boondoggles. Just to pick one example:

Faster than a speeding bullet train, the cost of the state’s massive high-speed rail project has zoomed to nearly $100 billion — triple the estimate given to voters and more than enough to run the entire state government for a year.

What’s more, bullet trains won’t be up and running until at least 2033, much later than the original estimate of 2020, although that depends on the state finding the remaining 90 percent of the funds needed to complete the plan.

The new figures come from a final business plan to be unveiled by the California High-Speed Rail Authority on Tuesday, though some of the details were leaked to the media, including this newspaper, on Monday. Officials at the rail authority did not respond to repeated requests for comment Monday.

That estimate of $33.6 billion was made three years ago. If the cost has tripled in three years, you can only imagine what might happen in the next 22.

Of course, to the Democrats, the inflated costs are a good thing — more spending is more stimulus! It’s now three times as stimulusy as it was was just three years ago! But to the rest of us, this calls for a fork to be stuck into the project. And for some serious reconsideration of just what the hell we’re doing with all this infrastructure money.