Saturday, December 6, 2008

Perhaps I Have Had Too Much Hope

This language is not change we can believe in. I can't keep giving the benefit of the doubt with language like this alone from Obama:
ROADS AND BRIDGES: “[W]e will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s. We’ll invest your precious tax dollars in new and smarter ways, and we’ll set a simple rule – use it or lose it. If a state doesn’t act quickly to invest in roads and bridges in their communities, they’ll lose the money.”
No wonder we're so far behind the rest of the world. If your smart leaders don't understand and articulate the real problems, then how are we supposed to fix them? Commenters on liberal blogs such as Daily Kos this morning echoed my thoughts:
Roads and bridges, roads and bridges, roads and if that's all we need and everything will be alright. Yes, I know Obama has mentioned rail and I hear it more frequently now, but how about saying "rail, transit, roads and bridges" for once?
And on America Blog:
Rehabbing the infrastructure and the highway system is an excellent idea. I would like to see nation-wide pubic transportation on that list as well but . . . somehow, sensible bus and train and even plane connections are beyond us.
In fact there was a sentiment throughout the whole comment thread of this post that there has been little mention of transit. I didn't even see any mention of bike or pedestrian improvements which is a part of this as well. Yes I understand this is for immediate job creation, but there is a lot more that can be done if transit agencies would get their act together and ask for it, prove they need those funds. They are always complaining about being underfunded, I know there is a case to be made. It seems like politicians are afraid but like others have said, its a time to be bold. These are not times for the timid.


Ben Ross said...

Part of this is the legacy of the Bush administration. The FTA has put so many hurdles in the path of transit projects, that there's very little in the pipeline that can start within a reasonable amount of time but isn't already funded.

What I have been seeing is a two-part plan from Obama - first the quick stimulus, and then the long-term investment. When they talk about the second part of the plan, I do see them including transit - not as often as I'd like, but much more often than when they talk about immediate stimulus.

arcady said...

"If a state doesn’t act quickly to invest in roads and bridges in their communities, they’ll lose the money."
That is really, truly awful. What it means is that no matter how crappy the project, the state legislature will try push it through, so as to get the federal funding.

Robert said...

I am similarly discouraged. However, I am not surprised -- Obama has shown that he is a gifted speaker, but all that he's sold so far is change from the status quo, which is what everyone wanted anyway.

The President-elect is going to have much tougher time trying to get people to believe in mass transit projects when gas is $1.67 in California.

jon said...

well have to see who he chooses for transportation secretary and whether it will be one of those names floated around from the air or truck lobbys.

yeah so far i'm disappointed too with all the clinton appointees, treasury secretary who is from paulson's team, and auto bailout. but i hope he proves my skepticism wrong.

i do think transit will have one foot in the tranport spending stimulus bill and the other foot in the green stimulus bill. the question is how much money it will be.

Rhywun said...

With people losing their jobs, houses, and cars, it seems like transit would be more urgent than roads. Unless he plans on giving everyone a car, too.

Jerard said...

Ben Ross says it best. This is the true Legacy from the Bush Administration.

During that time transit project planning funding was slashed this time to make up for the lack of transit funding coming from the states and federal government to both plan and operate their services.

Of course the projects that will be available immediately for this stimulus are highway maintenance. However this stimulus should provide an infusing of transit planning dollars that will within the next 1-2 have more transit projects ready for DEIR or even ready to go out to bid.

Morgan Wick said...

I like to think that what Obama was trying to sell wasn't so much "change" as much as the idea that the people should be the ones fighting for change.

Everyone here should be writing Obama and giving him a piece of his mind, as well as transit agencies and wannabe transit agencies across the nation.

gleb said...

Infrastructure construction is actually useless at "creating jobs," so we shouldn't get distracted by any supposed stimulative effects. The government can only spend money that it takes out of the economy by either taxing it or borrowing it. That process, together with its allocation takes years to result in hiring, after which any economic cycle is over anyway.

What is eventually stimulative to the economy is the infrastructure, not its construction, and that depends on it being effective.

Add this to the list including Gates, Clinton, Emmanuel, Richardson, etc., etc. At this rate Obama will be appointing Mary Peters.

Yonah Freemark said...

I agree - I think I was giving Obama a little too much credit in his post, though today on Meet the Press he said "roads and bridges and other traditional infrastructure things" or something of the sort, so that's a small step in the right direction.

That said, agreed, it's absurd that mentioning transit or high-speed rail is such a heresy that he won't do it. And if he's afraid to mention these things in his messages, will he go ahead and sponsor legislation? Obviously, we need to keep up the pressure.

Regarding gleb's comment: infrastructure construction does create jobs - by shifting some people away from other jobs, those will now open up for someone else. Or, it will give a job to someone who didn't have one before. This is well described by Keynes and Krugman.

The huge infrastructure program called WWII is proof of that - it guaranteed basically full employment. So government spending at large levels can be an effective job-creator.

Obviously, though, the great part about infrastructure is that it has long-term benefits as well, as gleb pointed out. So let's get the move on it!

Erik said...

I'm with Ben Ross and Jerard--if Obama's putting a deadline on when the money has to be spent, as he said in the video, that will disqualify most transit projects because there is often so much lead time before construction begins.

That is partly due to the Bush administration not fostering transit projects, but it is also a function of funding. Young or new transit projects usually won't spend money researching and preparing new lines unless they've been told by the voters they have the money to build them.

Sam said...

Providing an infrastructure stimulus to projects ready to go or maintenance will put people to work and free up transportation budgets. State and Local governments don't have the "Infinite line of credit"

Unfortunately, the federal government has abandoned local governments in providing infrastructure that communities want. Rather than raising the gas tax, cities are raising the sales tax which is much more regressive. If the federal government were simply more responsive towards transit needs, we wouldn't have this nonsensical tax and spend approach to the downturn. We need to cut taxes and spend in recessions and raise taxes and save in times of growth.

Anonymous said...

All of these responses are ignoring the fact that we actually spend less on "roads and bridges" per capita than most other rich nations. Our rail infrastructure spending is even more atrocious, of course, but one cannot escape that we have ultimately been cheap even with the thing that facilitates the dominant mode.

After all, our roads are currently mostly living in the afterglow of their over-expansion and the over-investment in them up until the inflationary period in the 1970s and the Reagan-era cuts to the federal DOT. Unfortunately, we are in a pickle because of this neglect - we now have too much road mileage per capita (compared to other rich nations) that requires too much expensive maintenance but even were we to suddenly decide to change our road/rail ratio to that of, say, France, over the next 30 years, the remaining roads would still need massive investments to keep them from doing things like falling into the Mississippi River.

Basically, we're SOL.

Anonymous said...

Some of you in this thread are doing a disservice to yourselves, your party, and the country by blaming Bush for everything, including even Obama's policies and opinions.

You're giving him a free ride to implement almost any anti-progressive policy, and saying that somehow it's Bush's fault.

Now, when is Obama going to fill my gas tank and pay the mortgage on my McMansion out in the exurbs?

martin said...

Everyone here should take a moment, go to the transition team website at and participate in the forums there and voice your opinion about how the transportation and green jobs money should be spent on rail transit. I will. Also, email your other elected officials to let your opinion known. While its good to participate in forums like this blog it doesn't really help anything if you don't take it beyond your comment here and speak to those in positions to affect anything...

On a side note I couldn't agree more with this comment>>

"Some of you in this thread are doing a disservice to yourselves, your party, and the country by blaming Bush for everything, including even Obama's policies and opinions. "

gleb said...

I won't get into an argument of the relative merit of Keynes' economic theories (I'm no Keynesian). I'm happy to have the excuse to build transit, but if it's just to build another Robert Moses boondoggle, I'd just as soon keep the money in the private sector for building jobs that pay more than a road-grader's salary. I recognize I'm in a minority economic camp on this issue among transit supporters, but my point is that no matter what the stimulative effect (or lack thereof) of the actual construction, we need to keep our eye on the ball of the stimulative effect of having the infrastructure in place, not just the construction. We could pave Texas and "create" a bunch of jobs, but the resulting infrastructure wouldn't help our economy at all. On the other hand, if we emphasize urban connectivity via local transit, HSR, etc, we could spend the same money and get a profound pro-growth lifestyle shift.