It’s no surprise that a lot of politicians and policymakers believe that America’s biggest infrastructure problem is insufficient taxpayer funding. But never have I seen it expressed so condescendingly as in a Washington Post article published yesterday in the PostLocal section, not labeled as an opinion piece, titled: “Experts struggle to express direness of infrastructure problem to a wary public.”
There’s no doubt that America’s infrastructure, and especially its transit, is indeed in dire straits. But Ashley Halsey III and the ream of “experts” she assembles – none of whom, it seems, come from the technical side of the industry – cannot seem to conceive of any way to fix this other than to spend more of other people’s money.
In addressing the topic of wasteful spending, she doesn’t even leave open the possibility that there actually is wasteful spending. No – the problem must be that Americans are just too stupid and tea party-infused to understand that “trillions of dollars” in taxpayer money is the only cure.
The only concession Halsey makes to the possibility that wasteful spending actually does indeed exist is the infamous Alaskan bridge to nowhere (which was never even built), and federal earmarks for transpo projects. But even here, she implies that the problem has been solved, since the latest infrastructure bills under consideration are said to be totally earmark-free.
Now, I’m sure I don’t qualify as an “expert” in Halsey’s view, but if she would have asked me why the public thinks half of all infrastructure dollars are wasted, I would say that it’s because it’s true!, at least with regards to transit. Like most things, I’m sure the public thinks it’s true for all the wrong reasons, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re right.
Probably the starkest example of waste is in subway construction, as Alon Levy’s seminal blog post on the subject* makes abundantly clear. Even the cheapest of New York City’s three big subway projects – the 7 train extension to the far west side, which has already had one of its stations cancelled because of costs – is thirty percent more expensive per kilometer than even the most expensive subway project outside New York.
East Side Access, the most expensive project, is overpriced by about 1,000%. (Compared to Spain, the world leader in low-cost subway construction, the project is on the order of 10,000% too expensive.) And even in San Francisco, the Central Subway project, which will cost $500 million per kilometer, is – and I’m being generous here – about three-quarters waste.
And even on the operational side, it’s a trivial exercise to find staffing levels that are twice what they should be. Almost all of New York’s subway lines have twice the number of employees per train as they should have (one), and regional railroads throughout America have at least twice as many employees on trains as they have in Europe and Japan, with overstaffing rising as high as 500% on busy routes during rush hour.
In many ways, transit boosters in America resemble self-destructive drug addicts who had rough childhoods. Yes, the past was difficult, but that doesn’t make he bad decisions they’re still making any less problematic. Like a drug addict, American transit “experts” will never get anywhere unless they acknowledge that they have a problem in the first place. They’re like a heroin addict claiming that his live would be perfect, but only if stingy passers-by would just drop a few more dollars in his cup so he can buy another bag of dope.
* The fact that this work was left to a 20-something-year-old Israeli mathematician who didn’t make a dime off of it and published it on his own personal WordPress blog just goes to show how intellectually bankrupt the so-called experts really are.
Article source: http://www.forbes.com/sites/stephensmith/2011/12/07/washington-post-only-idiots-think-infrastructure-spending-is-wasteful-and-americans-are-idiots/