Tuesday, January 31, 2017

40 big projects we aren’t building

In the waning days of the Obama Administration, the U. S. Treasury published a report on big infrastructure projects we are not building in this country.  The report (40 Proposed U. S. Transportation and Water Infrastructure Projects of Major Economic Significance, available here) was a product of the Administration’s Build America Investment Initiative and was presumably intended to bolster the “needs” side of that effort.
The projects selected (there were strict criteria) range from building California High Speed Rail to rebuilding the entire I-10 corridor to completing the Second Avenue Subway in New York.  Most are site-specific, although some – such as Positive Train Control and National Traffic Signal Coordination – are nationwide in scope.  Each project is given a two-pager of facts and figures.
This report is very effective in demonstrating the sort of projects that other countries are building and we’re not.
Would I have selected the same projects?  Some, but not all.  There is too much highway widening (more urban freeways will only exacerbate long-term problems) and too much port improvement (why exactly are we subsidizing Asian manufacturing by spending huge amounts of money to accommodate Panamax ships?). 
A few nationwide projects I would add:
·      Electrify the Interstate system (fast chargers for electric vehicles)
·      Double the fixed-guideway rapid transit network
·      Fund sustainable neighborhoods (infrastructure “islanding”)
·      Advance climate change resilience in the most vulnerable areas
·      Design and operate marine highways (a great idea that never advances beyond the concept stage)
The report authors note that the main reason most of these projects aren’t advancing (or are advancing too slowly) is lack of funding.  In keeping with the Obama Administration’s stance, they suggest more public-private financing and avoid talking about the obvious need for much greater tax revenue for infrastructure.

Quibbles aside, the authors (including two friends and occasional colleagues of mine, Ray Ellis and Dick Mudge) have done a real service in demonstrating the scale of investment (with real project examples) that we need to thrive in the 21st Century.

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