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Funding only part of the problem

From NY Times (11/19, 2008):
Piling Up Monuments of Waste.

19leonhardt_large.jpg

We are all familiar with this country’s crumbing infrastructure: clogged roads, overburdened airports, aging subway systems and failed levees. Recently, there have been lots of talks about additional infrastructure investment to be used to address the urgent needs and to stimulate the economy.

However, the NY Times report notes that “money isn’t the main problem” when it comes to nation’s infrastructure. In fact, the spending has been up 50 percent over the last 10 years, as is shown in the figure above. A more important issue is to decide how that money gets spent, now that more funds are sure to come.

A survey shows that almost 80 percent local officials had based on their decisions largely on politics, while fewer than 20 percent cited a project’s potential benefits. Same for higher level decision makers, who have produced plenty of examples like the Bridges to Nowhere.

Mary Peters, the current secretary of transportation, argues: “The United States is one of the few countries in the world to make the majority of its transportation investment without first conducting any kind of economic analysis to determine whether those investments will have any practical benefits for commuters or shippers.”

How can we do better? The report notes that we should indeed spend more on infrastructure, but that is not enough, we also need more information, more cost-benefit analysis, and more justifications.

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