Infrastructure in Need

Even before today’s fires and power outages disrupted downtown D.C., it had been a rough week for transportation infrastructure in the area. Commuting by the Metro’s Orange line was a disaster because of a derailment — and Metro officials bungled the back-up plans for shuttle buses, completely mishandling communications — even as high fuel prices push riders onto mass transit. And the MARC trains were the usual unreliable selves.

Coincidently, this David Post diary on the indignities of infrastructure at was already getting some attention (via Instapundit):

Really, our public infrastructure – our public life – is in the process of deteriorating, and we don’t seem to be able to summon up the energy required to do anything about it. Maybe I’m wrong about that. I work in Philadelphia, probably the world capital of “what can you do? it’s just the way it is” – the public transportation system in Philadelphia is a grotesque monstrosity, filthy, noisy, and monumentally unpleasant, and the general feeling seems to be that it would be a miracle if we could find some way just to keep it from getting any worse – so maybe I’m oversensitive to the problem. But if I had had a guest with me from overseas on this trip, I would have been appalled and embarrassed by the state of decay into which we, collectively, have allowed things to fall.

Much of America’s transportation infrastructure is a half-century old; the Interstate Highway System was inaugurated in 1956 (after decades of planning).

But the planning and much of the construction took place before the Great Society, before Medicare, before Medicaid, before welfare, before Food Stamps, before the Conservation Reserve Program, before the Low-Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program, before the Community Development Block Grant Program, before the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, leafy spurge management grants, before HUD, the EPA, the Department of Education, etc., etc., etc….that is, before the explosion of federal spending and programs that now draw dollars that might have been spent on infrastructure.

Two thoughts (and we had time to mull things over on the hour long bus ride home today):

  • It’s a choice the American people have made and are now living with.
  • You can see why private financing — e.g. toll roads and public-private partnerships — is increasingly turned to pay for infrastructure.

In the meantime, here’s the website for the NAM-founded Alliance for Improving America’s Infrastructure,

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • […] The thing is, as government takes on more and more responsibilities, and demographics meet financing meet overpromising politicians (Social Security, Medicare), well, there’s less public money available to do the things the public demands. Try building the Interstate Highway System from scratch nowadays. […]

  • Alexander D. Mitchell IV says:

    Okay, if you’re going to point to the recent problems of the Washington Metro as the examples of “infrastructure collapse,” I feel it my duty to point out that, contrary to your thesis, the Washington Metro is PURELY a product of the Great Society era–so much so, in fact, that the definitive history of the system, by Zachary Schrag, is titled “The Great Society Subway”! Yes, we can argue that the default mode of most American infrastructure maintenance is “crisis repair mode,” but the transit systems of most American cities–including bus and rail lines, even commuter trains–are relics of privately-built (with city charter/franchise oversight) transit or rail systems, which are now suffering from typically a half-century or more of government oversight/ownership/operation.

  • Auspex says:

    Remember, the Orange Line debacle this week was just days after an Act of God shutdown last week during the storms that turned my 45-minute commute into a three-hour nightmare!

    Virginia should quit funding Metro until the system is fixed. But it will never be fixed because Metro is, at its heart, a District of Columbia creature, with all the attendant corruption and incompetence.

  • JLawson says:

    Infrastructure isn’t sexy. It isn’t neat, clean, or pretty. But it’s vital for civilization – and ignoring it while it deteriorates is like a homeowner ignoring a ‘soft’ spot in the floor.

    Eventually, you’re gonna put a foot through it. At which point you find out if it was dry rot or termites – but either way it’s going to be even more expensive to fix…

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