January 23, 2009

Stimulus in Action

Recently, I wasted about an hour late one night on detours and traffic jams because a three-mile stretch of Interstate 5 is shut down for widening every night from 11pm to 4am. It illustrates a lot of the unpleasant tradeoffs on the horizon in Obama's Daleyesque ideas for "infrastructure stimulus" spending.

This is the main West Coast highway from San Diego to Seattle, so it's a crucial artery for trucks, but the long stretch just south of downtown LA, the old Golden State Freeway, is only three lanes each way. For some number of years now, CALTRANS has been adding a fourth lane each way for a stretch at the southern end of the bottleneck in northern Orange County. I have no idea if this will do much good for northbound drivers heading to downtown LA since they still must squeeze down to 3 lanes eventually. For southbound drivers, it will mean traffic speeds up three miles earlier as they go from 3 to 4 lanes.

Notice, however, that because I-5 is such an important part of the nation's infrastructure, it is only being shut down 5 hours per day: 11pm to 4am. That's barely half a shift -- not much of a job creator and not much of a quick stimulus either. Or Obama could pay to run two shifts a day, creating lots more construction jobs ... and completely snarl Southern California traffic.

I suspect a lot of similar tradeoffs will emerge in transportation stimulus spending.

One thing that was readily apparent that night was that there's a fairly low maximum tolerable density for simultaneous infrastructure projects, which limits how fast you can spend money on infrastructure stimulus. Shutting I-5 was tolerable to me because I-91, which I used for a long detour because it crosses I-5 at a 45 degree angle, wasn't also shut for upgrading. If they'd both been closed for work, I'd still be out there.

That means that the optimal pace of spending on infrastructure is slow. SoCal freeways, for instance, can aborb a lot of taxpayer money, but they can't absorb them all that fast without making traffic much worse than it is now.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

Since he's got so much money to burn, why does he not just order tunnelling? It won't help to divert much money to his constituency because tunnelling is higher-skill and mechanised, but at least tunnellers can work 24/7 without disrupting the traffic. And once it’s finished the SWPL crowd can have another orgasm since you can essentially shut down the original highway and plant trees.

Anonymous said...

I'll bet that the workers are getting paid for a full 8-hour shift.


Dennis Mangan said...

Peter said it.

Anonymous said...

Read what little Robert Reich has to say:


You couldn't make this shit up if you tried...

albertosaurus said...

Oh Steve, please! There will be no snarls. People will simply be allowed on the freeways only if they have a proper pass.

BTW, why were you on the roads so late?

Matt said...

"I'll bet that the workers are getting paid for a full 8-hour shift."

Of course they are: find me an equipment operator anywhere that is willing to drag himself out of bed in the middle of the night and only make wages for twenty-five hours a week (IE: not even enough to live on, especially in California.) but its not like there isn’t preparatory work to do either, or equipment maintenance, or simply transit to and from the work site--which, given the state of California roads, might take a long time.

But, if the disruption to existing traffic proves too great and we’re worried about folks not working for what they’re paid (or getting paid at all,) we could always resort to Stalinesque roads-to-nowhere, or hand-digging shallow canals through the permafrost. And if we get tired of that, we could add a Zen flavor and start paying people to carry buckets of water up a hill and dump them out on the ground.

Anything to stimulate the economy, because what’s important isn’t production but consumption!

Jim Bowery said...

The question of where Obama's infrastructure money will go will be largely driven by who comes up with "business plans" that employ women and minorities, including, of course, immigrants:


Is _anyone_ suprized?

GMR said...

That's nothing. Here in Connecticut, we have the Merritt Parkway (aka route 15) and we have Route 7. The two highways cross, but the interchange is incomplete. You can't go towards New Haven on the Merritt if you are going on 7 South. They never completed the interchange.

The state owns all the land to make the interchange complete. Yet they can't do it. They had the opportunity a few years ago, but after construction had been going an hour or two, some local judge issued an injunction because too many trees would be felled. Building the interchange would cause no traffic tie-ups. It would cause no endangered species to be threatened. Yet the enviros and smart growth types still manage to stop it every damned time. The Merritt has been there since the 1930s. Route 7 has been there since 1970. Yet they can't build an interchange. All the funding is in place.

Anonymous said...

Progressives want to kill the private auto, what better way to start than to make it extremely inconvenient, but only at weird hours. Then longer hours and more places and more and more - especially doing something many non-reflective people can be convinced they want done anyway.

Anonymous said...

And the worst part is, construction crews typically work during rush hour, not late at night as in your experience. (Well, I'm in Tennessee. That says a lot.)

Did I say "work"? Say, in Florida a road project - like expanding by one small lane a road on a vast level plane with no obstructions - would be stretched out over 2 or 3 years. Once, the newspaper ran a front-page story about construction worker slackers (you guess what color they were), sitting in lawn chairs all day and drinking booze in the open; photographs accompanied the story. Didn't speed up construction, though.

Speaking of construction workers, look at this Obama-tastic gem. No country for white men?

Anonymous said...

Progressives want to kill the private auto, what better way to start than to make it extremely inconvenient ...

One reason why The Fresh Young Prince's infrastructure projects conflict with eco-Progressivism.