Tuesday, June 7, 2011

US Infrastructure: Fix it now, OR forget about it and build a High-Speed Train instead?

So, our question for today is, fix it, OR scrap it and build something new and more expensive?  Our US Department of Transportation has already answered that question. 

It's understandable.  Nobody gets Brownie points for fixing what's broken.  No photo ops. No groundbreaking or ribbon cutting. No news headlines.  

I mean, think about it:  Senator Bullhorn, Seeking Re-election, Spends Federal Millions on Repairing the Madison County Bridge.  You're not going to see that headline any time soon.

However, if you push glamorous high-speed rail and promise to spend other peoples' money building it,  you've got yourself a re-election, bought and paid for.  Look at Jim Costa, Democrat of the Central Valley.  He got re-elected when Ray LaHood shipped another $700 million to his district, by way of the CHSRA.

I don't need to tell you that America's infrastructure is a wreck.  HIghways are abused by big rig trucks, filled with cracks and pot-holes.  Bridges are way past due for repair.  Dangerously so.  There's far too little being spent on our urban and regional pubic mass transit systems, whether rail or rubber.  They too are desperate for repair and maintenance.  Dangerously so.

How about our dams and waterways?  How about our potable water supply delivery capacity?  How about our gas mains such as the one that exploded in San Bruno not that long ago?  How about our energy sources?

You can see where this argument is going.  And, rather than making all these obligatory expenditures that are long overdue, instead we are about to pour all our capital, including money we don't have and have to borrow, into a high-speed train.

Excuse me? What's wrong with this picture? These are the priorities of politics, not transportation; not infrastructure. High-speed rail is the poster boy of a political campaign. It's the pre-election rhetoric that floats on the suggestion that we are going to race ahead of all other Nations on the earth (where we rightfully belong!!) by -- get this -- buying rolling stock from those other nations and hiring their HSR smarties to build it for us. 

And, we're going to call that, "WINNING THE FUTURE."

It should be apparent by now that this is one humungous mistake. And lots of people now realize that.  However, the federal DOT and the state CHSRA have momentum and dollars, lots of dollars.  The salaries of a lot of guys (and a few ladies) depends on this pointless project keeping going, wrong as it may be.

Responsible adults who really care about this country don't do things like this. 

It will take the entire US, Republicans AND Democrats, to pull up their socks and take a firm stand, saying, stop this now.

MONDAY, JUNE 6, 2011
Could Focusing on Repairs Please Everyone?
By Fawn Johnson
Correspondent, National Journal

I have been interviewing staffers on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee as part of a broader project for National Journal magazine profiling "Hill People." To a person, Republican and Democratic staffers on the committee say they want to see a six-year surface-transportation reauthorization bill completed this year. Everyone knows that's a tall order. It's already June. There are few options to pay for the proposal because of Republican mandates on spending and taxes. The earmark ban further complicates the endeavor.

It is significant, however, that no one disagrees with the overall goal. With a green light from House leaders, staffers could soon find themselves happily horse-trading the bill's details over pizza and Diet Coke. The only question is how they would narrow their focus, given the tight budget constraints. Smart Growth America may have provided one clue that could inch the committee down the yellow brick road. A report released last week found that between 2004 and 2008, states spent 43 percent of total road construction and preservation funds on the repair of existing roads, while the remaining 57 percent of funds went to new construction.

It's more cost effective to focus on the repairs, even though they may not win mayoral or city council elections. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials estimates that every $1 spent to keep a road in good condition avoids $6 to $14 needed later to rebuild the same road once it has deteriorated significantly.

Is there a grand bargain to be struck here? Could a focus--mandated from Congress--on repair and maintenance, instead of new construction, reduce the cost of a surface-transportation bill such that the legislating process could begin in earnest? Would Republicans and Democrats embrace that idea equally? What are the drawbacks? Why does maintenance get ignored by states and cities? What is the appropriate role for new construction in a tight budget situation?