Infrastructure, On That We Can All Agree

By December 9, 2008Infrastructure

At least we can agree on the existence of the term “infrastructure,” although come to think of it, it’s of relatively recent popular usage. Eisenhower didn’t launch the National Infrastructure System and mad bombers didn’t threaten the nation’s infrastructure in decades past.

Anyway, from today’s The Hill, “New Deal: Business likes Obama plan“:

Business groups believe injecting funds into rebuilding America’s roads and highways could put thousands back to work at a time of rising unemployment. As a result, lobbyists from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) are asking lawmakers and Obama’s transition team to funnel federal funds to “shovel-ready” projects as the best way to stimulate the flagging economy.

“Our view is we need significant investments in the nation’s infrastructure to meet the needs of the 21st century,” said Aric Newhouse, NAM’s senior vice president of policy and government relations.

And from CNBC, “Spending on Infrastructure: Big Numbers, Mixed Impact“:

“Funding for these infrastructure projects is not business as usual,” says Robyn Boerstling, director of transportation and infrastructure policy at the National Association of Manufacturers. “The needs are so great,” because cash-strapped states have been deferring projects, new or maintenance oriented.

Boerstling and others says the plan will lead to new jobs for the beaten-down construction industry and parts of its supply chain, as well as less obvious beneficiaries, such as engine and equipment manufacturers.

Meanwhile, Bob Poole, director of transportation studies at the Reason Foundation, examines the return on investment from infrastructure in his most recent newsletter, cited at NRO:

What today’s single-digit return on investment says is that much of what we spend on highways is not targeted to projects that can make a big difference—such as widening truck-clogged Interstate corridors and adding congestion-priced express lanes to gridlocked freeways. Instead, most of it funds lots of small stuff that keeps the wheels turning (and people employed) but doesn’t add much, if anything, to economic productivity.

And that is why I can’t get excited about transportation stimulus bills. Or about significantly increasing the size of the federal program in the next reauthorization bill—without fundamentally reforming how we decide to invest those funds.

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