Making Users Pay (Hello Ed Glaeser!)

Edward Glaeser came out with another good commentary about road infrastructure. Of course I tuned into it since he references my LSE professor Giles Duranton and his colleagueâ??s â??Law of Highway Building Futilityâ? â?? (actual name: fundamental law of highways congestion) the studies of reality confirm that if you build a highway, it will fill up and congestion will remain the same. The only way to reduce congestion in transportation infrastructure is to build a portfolio of transportation alternatives including trains, busses, bikes, and walkability.

The Glaeser piece is a critique of the latest â??Spend and Buildâ? federal transportation bill. He really believes we are past the time of building out the infrastructure and are in the time of keeping what weâ??ve got going. Sure, some jobs and mega-engineering contracting firms can benefit from big new projects, but our economy on a whole will be better off with a scheduled maintenance program for roads and bridges (among other things).

Glaeser outlines the basic history of transportation infrastructure in the US. He acknowledges the bigger and more frantic expansion of infrastructure in Asia and how some people wonder if we are â??falling behindâ? because they are spending more on big bridges. He kicks Spain for overextending themselves to build their high-speed intercity train network. His conclusion is that big projects make sense where there is a clear need for them, but in the US, we donâ??t need more threads in the highway fabric, we need to deal with congestion, with airport delays, and decaying bridges and roads to allay replacement expenditure.

I definitely believe in taking care of things, even though itâ??s just not as exciting as groundbreaking. Politicians who control public expenditure have a hard time getting on the preventive maintenance bandwagon. Iâ??ve wondered if there was a way to introduce performance incentives in public Online Casino works management â?? maybe split territories of infrastructure across 3-5 guilds of commons custodial entities (joint DPW/Political Party) and track the work over time. The team generating the best maintenance record (least ongoing costs) would be rewarded, and laggards saddled with less lucrative contracts. Projects would be assigned with some randomness to account for the vagaries of pre-existing conditions and usage patterns. This way, one bureaucratic entity canâ??t be captured by political illogic. Iâ??ll work on this idea a little more before I pitch it to the City of Cambridgeâ?¦

  • Let Users Pay
  • Implement Congestion Pricing
  • De-federalize Highway Spending
  • Institutionalize Maintenance Funding
  • Promote Private-Public Partnership
  • Cherish the Bus
  • Split Up the Port Authority

These are the key recommendations from Professor Glaeser. Very neo-liberal. I appreciate the interest he has in aligning responsibility with users. I want to point out that he does not seem to acknowledge the overwhelming â??publicâ? aspect of infrastructure â?? the commons that we all benefit from. There are just too many spillover effects from roads and transportation infrastructure to ever really assign the costs to the beneficiaries â?? which is why it is usually funded by governments. I like the toll road and congestion pricing, now that there is some technology that can enable that. But requiring projects to only exist if they can be funded by users is a poor metric to choose many community asset investments, so I tend to be wary of that pattern.

I hope many of Edward Glaeserâ??s recommendations can be taken to heart to more wisely spend tax money to improve the functioning of our communities. I also hope a more communal, civic and collaborative paradigm can help bring people into the effort to solve these problems and find the most widely beneficial and more responsible way to keep us moving and grooving.

 

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