When the discussion about infrastructure is limited to the question of whether we’re spending enough, we’re not talking about the infrastructure issues that really matter.
States keep building monster interchanges we don’t need.If there’s one message about infrastructure that Americans have had drilled into their heads, it’s this: We need to spend more on it. That’s what the American Society of Civil Engineers keeps saying, and what infrastructure coverage in general interest media keeps repeating.
The Trump claim of investing $1.5 billion in infrastructure was easily proven a sham. It calls for $200 billion in federal funding over 10 years, with cuts in his budget proposal offsetting the new infrastructure spending the White House laid out. Despite some cringe-inducing headlines, most reporters figured this out.
But when the national debate about infrastructure is limited to the question of whether we’re spending enough, we’re not talking about the infrastructure issues that really matter.
We haven’t delved into fundamental questions like: What should we repair? What should we build? How well are our current investments serving us? Given available resources and the results of past spending, what’s the best way to allocate infrastructure funding?
As Adie Tomer put it at Brookings, the Trump plan “is mostly a vehicle to indiscriminately boost spending” instead of “establishing a clear long-term vision for the country’s infrastructure that supports a more competitive and inclusive economy.”
Put another way, the White House has proposed a method to divide spoils, not to address the nation’s infrastructure needs.
About a quarter of the spending would be reserved for rural areas, guaranteeing a cut for Trump’s base.
About half would go to a discretionary grant program emphasizing private investment. The program would be administered by the White House, giving the Trump team a large pool of funds to dole out as patronage. The type of transportation project this program would favor — privately-financed roads — would both feed sprawl and create new risks for taxpayers.
Meanwhile, the Trump budget calls for cutting off funds to existing transit improvement programs like New Starts, one of the reasons it has accurately been described as an attack on cities.
Nor does the plan address the issue of poor maintenance and “crumbling” transportation infrastructure. America wouldn’t have a problem with decrepit roads and bridges if states focused on fixing existing infrastructure instead of building sprawl-inducing highway expansions. And yet, nothing in Trump’s proposal mandates investment in maintenance, reports Transportation for America.