August 2, 2007

Spend more on infrastructure?

In the wake of the Minnesota bridge collapse, Ross Douthat wants to. A few observations:

- Road-building is a national disgrace. It's corrupt -- Mayor Daley's closest buddies in Chicago are the road-builders who finance his campaigns in return for enormous contracts -- and thus the quality of our roads intentionally stink, wearing down our cars and lowering our gas mileage. They're supposed to fall apart because that puts more money in campaign donors' pockets. Roads in Belgium are made to last 40 years, in Chicago 12 years.

- The more densely populated the country gets, the harder it is to build infrastructure because of Not In My Backyardism, which increases with the number of backyards. There will never be another freeway built in Southern California, even though the population is expected to climb sharply, because land is now so expensive.

- Compared to 1950, it takes forever to build anything these days, largely because of environmentalism, but every activist has his hand out too. To finish the Century Freeway to LAX, for example, CalTrans had to payoff hundreds of "community" organizations, including an AIDS group in West Hollywood, ten miles and two freeways to the north!

- The simplest way to slow the worsening of the population-to-infrastructure ratio is to cut back on immigration, just as it's also the simplest way to lessen the increasing stress on other problem spots, such as public schools, inequality, and health insurance. Instead, what we constantly hear is: "Oh, no, all we have to do is fix the public schools [inequality] [health care] [or various other problems that we have no likelihood of ever coming up with a magic bullet fix for].

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

"every body has their hand out"...What you are talking about is a legacy of the Sixties...the increasing flow of taxpayer money to "non-profit" groups which, in turn, provide support to the politicians who fund them. Here in Suffolk County, Long Island, each member of the Legislature has a fund (the figure of 500k anually, each, comes to mind) which he can disburse to "community groups" which, incidentally, support him. The present Deputy County Executive was an architect of this policy when he served (for about 19 years) as counsel to the Legislature. Now, as a representitive of the Executive, he rails against it, on television. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

The cover story of the May 7, 2007 issue of US News was on traffic congestion. Try as I might, I couldn't find one single solitary mention of the "I" word.

And even spending more on infrastructure has its own set of problems. Driving along the Wasatch Front has turned into a trip through construction hell. How many construction zones do I travel trhough each day? 6,7,8? I lost count a long time ago.

Anonymous said...

What happened Anon was that Dems changed from a meat-and-potatoes New Deal orientation in the 1960's to JFK affluent stylistic aspirations and identity politics. Not the least of which was the identity of the Kennedy wanna-bes.

Even Ike built like crazy, the National Highway system being one of those gifts.

Fred said...

In a number of first world countries, pieces of infrastructure such as highways and bridges are sold to infrastructure funds managed by private sector companies. These companies maintain the infrastructure in return for the income stream from it (e.g., tolls). One of the world leaders at this is the Australian bank Macquarie, which started doing some of this in the U.S. a few years ago.

By the way, it's worth questioning how much toll money actually goes to pay for the upkeep of infrastructure and not something else. For example, here in the NY area, toll income from the George Washington Bridge was used to back revenue bonds and those proceeds of those bonds were used to build The World Trade Center.

Brian said...

Of course, we found more money for Israel, which currently receives some US$500 per man, woman and child - or 2,000 per family of four from the US.

And we send money to Eqypt to reward them for maintaining peace with Israel.

And of course there is the Iraq war, the necessary, but not sufficient, support for which came from Israel supporters.

We definitely need to start to take care of American interests first, even if that type of nationalism is considered "passe" by certain sectors.

Jeffrey said...

First of all, as a fan of Mayor Daley, I take exception to the comment that he is corrupt and all his friends are road builders. The first problem with this theory is that there is no reliable evidence that it is true. In fact, most construction projects are publically bid and if there really was a smart engineering/contracting firm that could guarantee a road for 30+ years, they would be considered in the mix of bids. The second problem is that the major highways in Chicago are not built or maintained by the city -- they are state roads. The third problem is that comparing U.S. roads to Belgium ignores the difference in traffic and the weather on the roads in the two countries...I would bet (although I'm not positive) that most U.S. roads carry a lot more car and truck traffic than a typical European road.

I do agree with your comment about the difficulty and costs involved in building public roads in America...we need politicians to step up to the plate and demand reform.

R said...

Roads in Germany are also built to a much higher standard than is common in the US. I can't prove anything, but I am sure the roadbuilder to politician fund flow works much the same there as in the US. What I think is probably different is the counter pressure from industry. Industry and the motoring clubs like ADAC press for good durable roads.
The builders pump money into politics to get the contracts and the roads are built expensively and durably. Industry is happy, the contractors are happy, and the politicians of CDU/CSU or SPD get re-elected. The public pays, but Germans at least get good roads for their Euros.
Also, poor roads, and poor quality infrastructure generally, would embarass German industry and the political leaders. Having quality public stuff is part of what defines a first world country in their view.

Freedom Fry said...

Roads in Belgium are made to last 40 years, in Chicago 12 years.

That may be, but if that's true French roads must be built to last 80 years. I just drove from Normandy to Brussels and the decline in road quality when you cross the border into Belgium is noticeable.

Anonymous said...

Not having driven in the US I can offer no comment about roads there.

However Ive recently driven across from Germany into Belgium, the drop in road standards is noticible. (I didnt notice such a difference between France and Belgium but thats just me.)

GMR said...

The German roads are indeed much better than American roads, for several reasons.

First, Germany has no speed limits on its highways. If you're driving 150 mph, there cannot be a sharp curve. German Autobahns have strict limits on how sharp a curve can be. Furthermore, German highways (at least the parts with no speed limits) also have grade restrictions, and in Germany, it's common to see a large bridge that doesn't cross a river or another highway.

If you took an S-Class onto most American interstates, and closed the road to all other traffic, I doubt you coul go 150 mph without crashing on many stretches of highway. The roads simply aren't good enough. In Southern Connecticut for instance, the roads aren't banked right, there are rather sharp turns, and the quality of the surface is not great.

German construction companies must guarantee the road for 50 years or some real long time. In Germany, there aren't that many small construction companies like there are in the US: their construction companies are big companies like Hochtief. Imagine if Halliburton were a large road builder in the United States.

Germans also pay several times more for gasoline than we do. These taxes help build better roads.

Sean said...

I live in Anchorage, Alaska, bad road capital of America. The city can't be bothered to fix the dangerous ruts (driving across busy streets is great fun) or raise manhole covers to the level of the pavement (imagine a pothole that never gets fixed), but they have no problem throwing away millions of dollars on whatever's going around in this month's trade magazines. The traffic rounds in the middle of an industrial neighborhood that are too tight for trucks, for example.

David said...

GMR said "Imagine if Halliburton were a large road builder in the United States."

Roads are being built - in Iraq. (At least according to the Administration.)

Bridges, too, I understand.

Maybe even an oil pipeline for Haifa, too.

And Boosh is keen on building at least ONE road:

Our government is corrupt. It does not serve us. Why do we continue to maintain our allegiance to it? Is *everyone* on its payroll?

David Davenport said...

... If you took an S-Class onto most American interstates, and closed the road to all other traffic, I doubt you coul go 150 mph without crashing on many stretches of highway. The roads simply aren't good enough. In Southern Connecticut for instance, the roads aren't banked right ...

You're right, US freeways aren't banked sufficiently steeply to allow 150 mph cruising BECAUSE you aren't supposed to go that fast.

The freeways are INTENTIONALLY not banked like a race track. It's not a design or maintenance flaw.

Anonymous said...

Or repairs may have caused the collpase.

That's it: no new spending on road repairs. It kills people!

Anonymous said...

assume low immigration. People have higher wages and spend them soundly or unsoundly - on hybrids or SUVs. Both are heavier vehicles that put more stress on the infrastructure.
Even if it didn´t work out that way, modernization of infrastructure happens to be an indispensable activity that is supposed to be part of what keeps an economy busy.