Friday, December 12, 2008

Infrastructure: Roads to nowhere

From The Economist:

America is in danger of getting the wrong kind of infrastructure

WITH the economy in recession and unemployment quickly rising, America’s elected leader prepares to put hundreds of thousands of people to work on infrastructure projects. Visiting the site of a new road, he sums up his agenda in three words: “Jobs, jobs, jobs”.

Barack Obama in 2008? No, that was George Bush senior in 1991. Politicians have long seen public works as a solution to economic woes. But few presidents have been as keen to spend as Mr Obama, or as pressured. America’s mayors have their wish list of projects, which cost about $73 billion. State governors are pushing for $136 billion-worth of projects.

The need is undeniable. Many old industrial cities have rich networks of roads and railways, dating from a time when they were much bigger. These are now crumbling. Last year a bridge collapsed in Minneapolis, killing 13 people. A tunnel that brings water to New York sprang a leak in the 1980s and is currently losing about 20m gallons a day. Philadelphia has been flooded with sewage. The most recent infrastructure “report card” by the American Society of Civil Engineers contains nothing but Cs and Ds.

Matters are even worse in the desert West and lowland South, where population growth has been so rapid that basic infrastructure is often non-existent. Las Vegas (population 560,000) is linked to Phoenix (1.6m) by a rural road that trundles over the Hoover Dam. The West struggles with a water system, built by the federal government in the early 20th century, that serves farmers much better than city-dwellers. The scarcity of power lines is holding up efforts to generate electricity from sun and wind....MORE

HT: Real Time Economics