Government — Prefers New Bridges To Fixing Current Ones
I’ve long been an avid reader of Coyote Blog. A while ago, he was talking about government’s propensity to neglect current infrastructure in the desire to get credit for new infrastructure, and the point hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. Here’s what he said:
And as I have gotten deeper into public recreation, what I have learned has only confirmed what I wrote in that editorial. I have seen that when the government runs recreation facilities, it almost never spends enough money on capital maintenance and refurbishment. The reason seems to be that legislators, given the choice, would much rather spend $X on a shiny new facility they can publicize to their constituents than spend $X maintaining facilities that already exist. I laugh when I here progressives argue that private industry is too short-term focused and only the government invests for the long-term. In practice, I find exactly the opposite is true. Think about hotels, or gas stations, or grocery stores. Private businesses understand that every 15-20 years, they need to practically rebuild existing infrastructure from scratch to keep them fresh for customers. This kind of reinvestment almost never happens in public recreation.
Of course, it’s not a surprise, just something I hadn’t thought of. Politicians don’t get elected by spending $100,000 to put a new roofs on the pavilions at the park. They get elected spending $100,000 on a new park. And they’ll probably get their own name on the new park just to remind the people who forced them to pay for it.
When I thought about Coyote’s post and its relevance to current events, I saw an immediate parallel. Time Magazine, though, got to it before I could:
The forensic engineers have not yet determined why the bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, but the congressional porkers have made their diagnosis: Lack of money. Republican Congressman Don Young of Alaska complained that if President Bush hadn’t forced deep cuts in his $375 billion transportation bill, America’s infrastructure wouldn’t be rotting so rapidly. “I don’t do this often when I say I told you so,” he said.
Maybe we do need new transportation resources. But first we need new transportation priorities. Congress has to stop building new bridges to nowhere, and start fixing its old bridges to somewhere.
Out approach to transportation projects is almost as dysfunctional as our approach to water projects, which I wrote about last week. There’s no starker example than Young’s $375 billion bonanza, which he bragged he had stuffed “like a turkey.” The bill included more than 6,300 earmarks inserted by individual congressmen, including not one but two bridges to nowhere in Alaska – the notorious $223 million crossing to the island of Gravina, population 50, and a $229 million boondoggle near Anchorage known as Don Young’s Way. The entire bill was known as “TEA-LU,” an acronym for the awkwardly named Transportation Equity Act – a Legacy for Users, which only makes sense if you know that Young’s wife is named Lu.
Not enough money? Perhaps it’s just priorities. Or perhaps, it’s just what you’d expect when you have self-serving politicians doing what it takes to achieve their primary goal while they’re in office: remaining in office.
Some would suggest that it’s dangerous to leave things like roads in the hands of the private sector. They’re “too important”. But I would suggest they’re too important to let politicians get involved.