Road Work

On the two year anniversary of Hurrican Katrina, Joel Kotkin in today’s Wall Street Journal notes how politicians push aside the more mundane aspects of “governing” for “the ephemeral and the glitzy.”

Rather than deal with the expensive and difficult task of retrofitting the
sinews of commerce and communication — bridges, tunnels, roads, rail lines,
ports, sewers, and drainage systems — America’s urban powers focus on the
ephemeral and the glitzy. They emphasize not brick and mortar, but sports
stadia, convention centers, arts palaces, dubiously effective new light-rail
lines, hotels and condo projects.

This is hardly an “urban powers” issue, but ALL politicians in Harrisburg that are looking for the project that makes them look good (e.g., Penguins arena, Philly Convention Center, Cabela’s in Central PA, etc.).

Kotkin continues…

Modernizing the nation’s infrastructure, as we move towards a nation of 400
million by 2050, will mean much more than simply maintaining and expanding
publicly financed airports, roads and waterways. There is room for innovation,
using new telecommunications technology, flexible, cost-efficient rapid transit,
toll roads and a generally more imaginative role for private-sector investment.

But there is as yet little apparent appetite for this. Governments
prefer subsidizing high-profile but marginally effective boondoggles —
light-rail lines, sports stadia, arts or entertainment facilities, luxury hotels
and convention centers.

[F]ew politicians seem interested in a coherent “back to basics”
infrastructure investment strategy, except as a potential opportunity for
pork-barrel spending. Until they are, we can look forward to more natural
disasters, bridge collapses, subway malfunctions and power shortages. What
happened in New Orleans two years ago could become not the exception, but
the emblem of a troubled American future.