The infrastructure tightrope Obama will have to walk
As I noted the other day, there’s something of a tension between the infrastructure investments that can be circulated into the economy quickly and those that are green — particularly when it comes to public transit.
A Washington Post piece on Sunday addressed the issue:
Most of the infrastructure spending being proposed for the massive stimulus package that Obama and congressional Democrats are readying, however, is not exactly the stuff of history, but destined for routine projects that have been on the to-do lists of state highway departments for years. Oklahoma wants to repave stretches of Interstates 35 and 40 and build "cable barriers" to keep wayward cars from crossing medians. New Jersey wants to repaint 88 bridges and restore Route 35 from Toms River to Mantoloking. Scottsdale, Ariz., wants to widen 1.5 miles of Scottsdale Road.
This is the fear:
"The quickest things we can do may not be the ones that have the most significant long-term impact on the green economy," [Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak] said. "Unless we push a transit investment, this will end up being a stimulus package that rebalances our transportation strategy toward roads and away from [what] we need to get off our addiction to oil."
It turns out one of the key tensions here is between cities and states. As Matt Yglesias puts it, "State government is almost always structured so as to bias political power away from large cities, so structuring stimulus funds entirely through state governments will probably result in a lot of sprawl-enabling investments rather than investments that allow us to use our already-build areas more intensively and efficiently."
Meanwhile, Friends of the Earth has started a campaign to keep new roads out of the stimulus package.
The apparent choice of Ray LaHood to head DOT tells us … well, nothing much about how Obama will approach this stuff. Certainly doesn’t inspire.