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.
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, GetAmericaMoving.com.
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