The long road aheadDiscussion, Economy, Investment | October 27, 2010 at 12:26 am
A wave of infrastructure projects are sweeping across the face of this big blue rock we call planet Earth, but the United States is remarkably immune to this epidemic. And that can be put down largely to the stonewall America has presented to almost any and all opportunities to spend money. That more than anything else is hurting the improvements we need to put in place with roads, airports, seaports and railway systems across the length and breadth of the land of the free and home of the brave. Slightly worryingly, the American Society of Civil Engineers published a report that put the figure of investment needed for America at $1.6 trillion over a period spanning five years. And that’s just to bring infrastructure up to a level that can be deemed standard, so the road is long and arduous.
But just how do you justify an expense like that for an economy that is simply being crushed underfoot by a crippling level of debt and unemployment? With budget deficits and a weak economy overshadowing all before it, there is simply no political will to pump billions (forget trillions) of dollars into spending programs aimed at improving infrastructure. Never mind the fact that plans such as these would create several thousands of jobs overnight, it is just extremely difficult for cash-strapped governments to sanction the allocation of such funds. A prime example of that is the recently scrapped plan to construct a rail tunnel between New Jersey and New York. That project would have created 6,000 jobs instantaneously and some 40,000 jobs until just after its anticipated date of completion in 2018. But like many other plans, it remains just that; a plan relegated to the scrapyard of dreams never to see the day of light.
A large reason that the New Jersey governor scrapped that plan was the cost. From an initial projection of $5 billion 5 years ago, the cost has mushroomed to a figure in excess of $14 billion, an unjustifiably large figure in times of frugal economic sensibility. And it’s not just a worry about the initial costs of projects just like these; the public at large and the political masses look at such efforts very gingerly in the light of the debacle that was the “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska and the infamous “Big Dig” in Boston. Events such as these put the spending of taxpayers money on any and all infrastructure efforts under very tight scrutiny. Extreme situations such as these only serve to distort public perception of the matter.
So, to sum up the mood then; there is a pressing need to improve roads, railways and all infrastructure available to the American people. But no one is in the mood to pay for it in this economic climate. Cases such as the two mentioned before means that necessary and important infrastructure projects will arguably never see the light of day. Given the political and economic uncertainties surrounding all of this, it is not certain that any proposed plan will ever be fully realized. Spending on infrastructure will help create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the long run, but the public and political will is intent on not spending money while they bemoan the lack of jobs. This is a Hobson’s choice no one wants to make.