Of COURSE The United States Has To Spend Trillions On Infrastructure Renewal, And Of Course Ignorance, Incompetence And Dishonesty Will Screw It Up. Again.

Welcome to the first Russian doll Ethics Alarms post, in which a series of essentially identical essays are nested to shout out a truth that hasn’t changed in decades. That truth is that the infrastructure of the United States is getting progressively worse.

Sub-truths nested in that one include these:

  • This was an urgent crisis 40 years ago, and has only been getting worse since.
  • Both parties and all Presidents since—Nixon? Johnson?—are equally responsible, because they all  participated in “kicking the can” down the rotting road for political gain. This was and is political cowardice. Maintaining the infrastructure is one basic function of government, like national defense and law enforcement, that both Big Government and limited government advocates can agree on. However, since infrastructure rot is only a headline matter when bridges collapse, airliners crash or sewer pipes burst spreading disease and death, it’s a long term expense with benefits that the public won’t see immediately, if at all. Their grandchildren, however, will have better lives.
  • Politicians prefer short-term benefits, like sending checks directly to potential voters (and favored interest groups) under the fantasy of “economic stimulus.” This is a bi-partisan breach of duty and ethics.
  • As with everything else, the news media is stunningly incompetent in explaining the facts. I just heard two Fox News talking empty-heads arguing about whether sewer and water pipes were “infrastructure.” This is because much of the partisan attacks on Biden’s proposal has focused on the relatively small proportion of the financial requirements that will pay for  “roads and bridges.'” Of course sewer and water pipes are infrastructure, and indeed among the most dangerous parts of a nation’s infrastructure to let deteriorate, as ours have in too many major cities to count. You people (Dana Perino and Bill Hemmer in this case) are incompetent idiots, and should be working at a 7-11. Also included in the “infrastructure,” in case you care: canals, airports, railways, public transportation, barges, ferries, waterways, traffic signals, the power grid, and more. You are making the public even more ignorant than they already are. You’re a disgrace. I hate you.
  • Jobs are not infrastructure, but to listen to the advocates of renewal,  you would think that creating jobs is the main reason to undertake the effort. This is disinformation, and also unforgivable.
  • A rotting infrastructure hurts the economy in thousands of incremental, sinister, unavoidable ways, making goods more expensive, people poorer, limiting economic growth, and yes, costing jobs, with all of these effects getting worse over time.
  • No, the nation can’t afford to do what needs to be done–which is what will lead to national disaster if it is not done. That is because we have allowed the national debt to reach the red zone, and again, both parties are to blame, Republicans for irresponsible tax cuts, and Democrats for creating out-of-control social programs. However, whether we can afford it or not, we have to do it, spend the money, raise the taxes, be responsible…or we are dooming the nation. That is the situation cowardly, incompetent, venal and dishonest leadership has created.
  • I see little hope that President Biden’s efforts are any more serious or that they will be any more successful than the proposals that have gone before. It is true that even some infrastructure repair is better than none, but Democrats and progressives have painted themselves, and the nation, into a corner.

For example, the Biden administration has blocked a major highway expansion in Houston, Texas, claiming that the project is racially discriminatory and harmful to the environment. The state was about to begin a proposed widening of certain sections of Interstate 45 that has been years in planning when the Department of Transportation invoked the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to temporarily shut it down pending further review, Politico reported.

The department’s intervention is supposedly  a “test case” for Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, has claimed  “racial injustice” in highway construction and vowed to make “righting these wrongs an imperative” under his leadership. Local activists say that the highway expansion would disproportionately harm black and Hispanic communities by displacing more than 1,000 homes, hundreds of businesses, five houses of worship, and two schools along the stretch of highway.

If race, class and the environment are going to be the priorities, then essential infrastructure maintenance is impossible. It is that simple.

From Ethics Alarms Déjà Vu And The President’s Infrastructure Proposal (2018):

[President Trump] has proposed an infrastructure upgrade, more or less. I don’t care about the numbers: whatever it is, it’s not enough. It is, however, something, and infrastructure renewal is a national emergency, indeed a crisis, that should not be derailed by partisan bickering and gamesmanship. Will it further exacerbate the ballooning debt? Yes. Unlike much of the spending that has dug the nation a deeper hole than it is likely to ever escape, however, infrastructure is not discretionary spending.

Jonah Goldberg just issued a mind-meltingly ignorant and dishonest column for the Los Angeles Times titled “Is American infrastructure crumbling? Hardly.”

Shame on him. This is Trump Hate as national suicide. Our infrastructure has been crumbling for decades, with each year of neglect guaranteeing bigger expenses and hidden burdens on the economy, not to mention that cholera outbreaks when the sewage pipes and water pipes start breaking coast to coast.

I’ve been writing about this unethical nightmare of irresponsible leadership and government for years, here and elsewhere. Nothing has changed. Where necessary, as you read these excerpts from 2010 and 2011, just change the name of the President or the parties. The situation hasn’t changed, other than getting worse.

Any pundit, politician or journalist who claims that spending to repair the crumbling—yes, that’s the right word—infrastructure is not an urgent, existentialist bi-partisan priority is either a liar or a fool.

From Blame Everyone for Infrastructure Ruin: Unethical, Irresponsible Priorities from Reagan to Obama (2010)…

In the early Eighties, I oversaw and edited an independent study funded by the Highway Users Federation and the National Chamber Foundation called “Transport Tomorrow,” exploring the immediate need for transportation infrastructure repair and expansion in all modes of transportation: roads, railway, waterway, and airports. In the process of learning how dire the need for massive construction and repair was if America’s future commercial needs were to be met, the study commission made a disturbing discovery: urban water and sewer systems were crumbling too. There was literally not enough money to fix all the roads, bridges, tunnels, water mains and sewer pipes that had to be fixed, and the consequences of not doing so would be economic paralysis and worse, disease and even social unrest.

In the face of this looming and undeniably real disaster, the Reagan Administration did—pretty much nothing. Neither did the Bush, Clinton and Bush II administrations, and even the Chamber of Commerce failed to make infrastructure repair one of its key issues. Oh, there were new projects, of course, and when a major bridge started to dump cars into rivers it was repaired. Holes were patched, pipes were replaced here and there. But the full-fledged commitment to the unsexy and incredibly expensive job of keeping the infrastructure sufficient to meet the needs of the nation, and protecting it from the ravages of use and time was deferred, and deferred, and deferred. Something was always more important: wars…tax cuts…the environment…health care. The Obama Administration is following this irresponsible pattern, except it has combined with the profligacy of the Bush Administration to push the Federal deficit into unprecedented dangerous territory. New taxes on just about everybody and everything are going to be needed to stave off financial ruin, and there will be little political will to spend any of the income on something as mundane, but crucial, as sewers.

The problem, however, has become infinitely worse since 1983, when “Transport Tomorrow” was released, and then as now, the attitude of our elected leaders is to let the next guy deal with the problem. Is this responsible? No. Is it cowardly? Yes. Is it a blatant, intentional and knowing distortion of priorities that will threaten American prosperity, jobs, and lives? Absolutely….

From Ethics Heads-Up: When the President Talks About “Investment in Infrastructure,” Pay Attention (2011):

Yesterday, a massive water main rupture shut down part of the Washington area Beltway, tying up traffic and swamping cars. From the Associated Press story:

“At one point, water from the broken main shot eight or nine feet in the air, said Lyn Riggins, a spokeswoman for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. There was significant damage to the office park, with chunks of asphalt strewn across the parking lot, building windows shattered and three cars filled with water.

“It looks like somewhere where you would go white water rafting,” Riggins said.”

Advance reports discussing President Obama’s State of the Union message tonight note that he will be talking about, among other things, investing the nation’s resources on infrastructure renewal: roads, sewers, bridges and more. Already, Republican budget hawks and the conservative talk shows are mocking this as simply a euphemism for more “out of control spending.”

Addressing this country’s dangerously decrepit infrastructure will be expensive all right, but it is definitely an investment, and not undertaking it immediately is irresponsible, short-sighted, dangerous and foolish.,,

From Hole-in-the-Roof Ethics: If Obama Asks For Massive Infrastructure Renewal, the GOP Must Support It (2011):

Spend the money, trillions if necessary, to repair and replace existing roads, railway beds, waterways, sewer systems, airports and bridges.  It still won’t get us where we need to be, but we’ll be much better off than if we let the current deterioration continue, and we’ll save money in the long run, too—real savings, not phony health care reform savings that evaporate once reality kicks in.

There is no justification not to do this, nor is there any legitimate excuse for any elected official not to vote for it. (And no, not wanting to give the President a victory is not legitimate…or ethical, or patriotic.) Repairing the infrastructure isn’t “discretionary spending,” it is essential, unavoidable and cost-effective spending, unless it is diverted into new boondoggles and pork. No new structures, unless they replace unrepairable old ones. No light rail systems or bullet trains; what is needed is basic maintenance and repair….everywhere. It is already late, but “better late than never” has seldom been as appropriate.Will fixing the infrastructure add to the deficit? Not really, because it already is an expense that we know will have to be made, or else. If the sewer systems and waterworks break down, we start dying. If bridges collapse, we die too. That isn’t even mentioning the increasing costs in energy and commerce caused by a decaying transportation system. The sooner we pay for it, the less it will cost, so sooner is per se better for the economy…

15 thoughts on “Of COURSE The United States Has To Spend Trillions On Infrastructure Renewal, And Of Course Ignorance, Incompetence And Dishonesty Will Screw It Up. Again.

  1. Part of the problem is we don’t have an efficient, deployable major construction workforce. The cost and liability of personal is a major barrier

  2. The I-45 widening project has, indeed, been in the works for a long time. This project is supposed to address traffic congestion (supposedly) on the southeastish side of downtown and all the way through the center (kind of – it’s actually in the far east side of downtown) and there are no less than 600 local, state, and federal highways involved. Lest you think I exaggerate, that approximately one-square mile area is home to the 59/69 spur through 288 exits through the 59/69 and 45 interchanges (which wrap around the center) running directly into I-10 west/east and then a little farther north the Loop 610. It’s a mess and a traffic nightmare, and is probably 30 years behind schedule considering Houston’s explosive growth over the last 10 to 15 years. The best way to navigate the area is to close your eyes, hit the accelerate and hope for the best.

    I am a little confused about the program myself because the local media have been downright awful in their reporting. Supposedly, the idea is submerge parts of the 1-45 freeway and 59/69 underground (great idea with Houston flooding problems), and expand some of the other roads east of the city. See, you can’t really go west of the 1-45/56/69 highway because, well, you will run directly into bigass buildings, hotels, convention centers, sports complexes (no less that 3 of them [thank you taxpayers]), schools, churches, apartments, townhomes, houses, businesses, and a host of homeless encampments sponsored by Sylvester Turner and the city and county governments. Space, then, is a premium.

    Now, remember, the Harris County Judge, Lina Hidalgo, is a 30 year old Colombian native, Stanford University graduate, with a bit over Ivy League education before “reconsidering” her career path. She has no real feel for Houston or Texas, for that matter. Besides that, she is not overly effective. She doesn’t really get that the County Judge is not really a judgeship but is the “mayor” or CEO of the county. She won her position in 2018 with straight ticket voting, defeating Ed Emmett, who served as the county judge for many years and most people – Democrat, Republican, and independents – agreed did a really good job, especially during Hurricane Harvey. He was experienced, seasoned, and measured in his approaches to county problems.

    Hidalgo, though, is none of that. She tests the political winds and then makes stupid decisions about what she is supposed to do. Here, she tried to follow on The Squad’s activities by jumping on the dispossessed minority bandwagon and has thrown her less than considerable weight and influence into mucking up the project. She found out that poor people would suffer from the project so she rallied around them and has no a masterful job of making herself look like a political idiot.

    Then, Biden won and now all things have to address “disparate impact” so she jumped up and declared that an environmental impact study needed to be done (it was already done but she didn’t know about), by which she meant the study had to consider how poor people would suffer as a result of the project. Then, Buttegieg became the DOT head, showing that all you need to run an important transportation agency is have a bike and helmet, and toss around platitudes of economic impact and systemic racism and the like and everyone gets misty eyed thinking of what Martin Luther King, Jr. would do. When all else fails, throw in MLK and you are golden.

    The local leaders (and I shudder to think that Sheila Jackson-:Lee is included in that group), ministers (always have to have the local Black ministers), and activists saw a beautiful opportunity to fleece the feds for more cash and off to the races they went. The project has been halted, jobs are going to be lost, Houstonians won’t get relief from traffic problems but the local groups will get lots of cash. So, I guess everyone wins. RIght?


  3. Houston traffic was horrific when I was down there 45 years ago as we speak.

    I took 288 (a nice 4 lane boulevard back in the day) south from the Astrodome, down to W. Fuqua Road and east to a place I rented on the Harris County line.

    There was nothing, and I mean NOTHING down there a the time; you telling me that’s no longer the case…?

  4. I have been surprised, baffled, and irked since childhood (yes: truly, not joshing – ever since I was in GRADE SCHOOL – when I was a little boy!) at the lack of vision of the road-builders. I mean, it’s like ever since Eisenhower, the government just threw money at building interstates…with NO concurrent planning AT ALL for a “life cycle cost.” I remember aching – again, truly, thinking about it and feeling the pain of others – at the thought of how interstates were going to dry-up business in towns all along the old highway routes.

    Looking back now, I see the folly a little more clearly: a former military leader, with some vision but with a military purpose in mind, started those interstates (after being inspired by the Third Reich’s autobahns). But after him, people were too interested in their here-and-now to follow through, to sustain what had been invested in so heavily. That recognition of lack of vision was confirmed to me when I heard Ronald Reagan on one of his weekly radio speeches announce that he was going to raise the gasoline tax for road repairs because, even in the early 1980s, sections of interstate had already decayed into something less safe and usable than the old wagon trails.

    I mean, I did projects when I was a mere kid, things like building stuff and dealing with the lawn and landscape at my house, with a VISION, a PLAN for, I guess these days it’s called “sustainability.” Now, full disclosure: I was a brat, too – when I was preschool age, after watching part of a movie on TV about the Chicago fire of 1871, I went out to a row of shrubs – pretty ones! – and “simulated” the destruction of the fire, breaking twigs and flowering branches and limbs, then standing back to inspect and fantasizing, “Yeah – that looks like what that fire did!” (kind of patting myself on the back – till Dad got home and whipped me good) But lessons like that, and others, put a sense of having a vision for something of permanence that was intended to last longer than just the moments of, and immediately after, initial completion.

    This country is so far “behind the eight ball” with its infrastructure, the eight ball isn’t even in sight – it’s not even on the table. So today, I am aching for my kids and grandkids, like I used to ache for those people who suddenly found themselves in “drive-past country” when the interstates were built. It’s aching in helplessness and a growing hopelessness, for the helplessness and hopelessness my progeny will also certainly suffer, as yet more of the great achievements that made the country great continue to decay or, worse, be “mis-built” as they certainly will be by future wasteful, capricious authoritarian governments in the land.

    Anyone want to lay any bets on when the Three Gorges Dam either bursts or becomes a shell of its former, or envisioned, utility?

    • The discussion of the Interstate, specifically I-80 and the Eisenhowers was always very interesting, having grown up in Wyoming. Something I was taught was that people wanted a combination of the old Lincolnway Highway and Highway 30 to be the interstate. Mrs. Eisenhower, however, really liked the views both of the Summit (between Laramie and Cheyenne) and Elk Mountain, and therefore, it was decided that the interstate would run through those stretches of land. This had several effects, all of which were brought up and then dismissed. The obvious one is what you mentioned, towns along the old roads drying up, just as is presented in Disney’s Cars, making that movie very poignant to me. The less obvious one at the time, but the more pressing one even today, is the weather. The old Lincolnway Highway went on a different path through the mountains between Laramie and Cheyenne that was more accommodating to winter weather. The summit, however, sucks on a good day with it’s high grade. Add in bad weather and the road becomes incredibly treacherous. Highway 30 is just far enough north that while it still services the southern part of Wyoming, the windy corridor is barely missed, making for a safer road. I-80 near Elk Mountain and Arlington, on the other hand, is constantly buffeted by high winds, making blizzards especially dangerous, and routinely shutting down the road to light or high profile vehicles. Not only was there a lack of planning for the towns, but even the topography was ignored in favor of prettier views. To this day, the state has a great deal of trouble keeping I-80 clear during all the winter months, and in Wyoming, I was taught as a kid that the seasons are “Almost Winter, Winter, Still Winter, and Road Construction”, so that’s most of the year.

  5. I was just reading an article at NPR today that “explained” (by which I mean, of course, preached) that the interstate highways were racist and that, because they go through poor neighborhoods, they cut off “access to opportunity” for those people.

    I’m still trying to suss out how having ready access to a high-speed transportation thoroughfare limits access to opportunity.

  6. This newest “infrastructure” bill has almost nothing to do with infrastructure. They are just blowing money on leftist wishlists, and calling it an infrastructure bill so they can shove it through using budget reconciliation.

    Money does need to be spent on actual infrastructure, but networks of charging stations for electric cars are not infrastructure. If there were a demand for those charging stations, gas stations would be installing them. There is no reason for the government to be usurping private business and calling it infrastructure other than they see an opportunity to take over more of the economy and install themselves as kings over the population.

    There is also no reason to raise taxes for their infrastructure plans. The government makes plenty of money off of existing taxes. If they don’t have enough, then they should examine their budget and cut expenses. Stop funding pork. Stop funding research studies to find out about the sex lives of 3 legged fruit flies or a turtles max speed on a treadmill or whatever other absurd things they have been “researching”. Stop paying for abortion and transgender transitions and NPR. Stop giving money to every 3rd world dictatorship in the world as bribes. That money doesn’t go to the people who need it anyway, it goes into corrupt government officials pockets. Stop paying for Europe’s military protection and the WHO and the UN. Stop paying for fancy parties in Hawaii for government agencies, and CRT “lectures” and all the government agencies that ceased to have a purpose 60 years ago yet still make it into the budget every year. Stop funding pointless wars in countries that like being war torn and barbaric, giving money to whichever senator needs a bribe to vote for something, and illegal aliens.

    If they want my money, they can stop wasting it, first. If they want my money, they can stop lying about what they plan to spend it on, first.

    The government owns lots of land. They could sell some if they are so hard up for cash.

    • … Stop paying for Europe’s military protection …

      That one comes under the heading “you broke it, you bought it”. In 1956 the U.S.A. smashed most of the military and strategic autonomy Europe had left (as it had already done to the Dutch, in the late ’40s). Regardless of the rights or wrongs of any of that, or the motives behind it, ever since then the U.S.A. has been ethically estopped from failing to defend Europe and from charging for it, as it was the U.S.A.’s choke chain that stopped European countries from making their own arrangements. If the U.S.A. did stop all that expensive defence now, one of two bad results would most likely follow, in due season: a power vacuum from failed states in Europe, with all that could spread from that; or, recovered and irritated states there, with all that could spread from that. Just making Europe pay for protection would be even worse, as it would be another step down an imperial path with all the costs of that that Athens found flowed from running the Delian League that way.

  7. When Obama proposed his stimulus package, I noted that it was almost exactly the same amount of money that people estimated we needed to fix our infrastructure. Obama was new and I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he had decided to use this emergency to finally fix our infrastructure while putting people back to work for a few years. Great, it will finally get done, I thought. What an idiot I was. We spent enough money to fix everything and no one can seem to figure out anything the money did. In hindsight, I don’t know if Obama understood what it meant to fix our infrastructure or know how to actually get anything done. I suspect he understood how to hold a meeting an write a report, but did not realize that those things are not the same thing as getting anything done.

  8. It’s going to be Shin Godzilla, USA.

    “We need to fix all this infrastructure.”
    “Wait! This is our chance to dream big and replace those old, white-supremacist bridges and tunnels with eco-friendly, green spaces that will be safe and nurturing to the bi-racial, indigenous, and peoples of color. I know some people who run some startups that could do it for a few extra trillion.”
    “Okay, sounds good. Now, let’s talk about-”
    “Hold up. We demand that at least 50% of all new jobs created by these projects go to women and/or trans people. This can’t just be an indirect stimulus for ugly, dirty males.”
    “Well, it’s not meant to be a stimulus, we just need to build some…”
    “I detect some mansplaining and misogyny in your voice, with a whiff of white supremacy.”
    “I’m sorry and I hate myself. We’ll do it your way, which is surely the best way. But there aren’t very many women available who want to do manual labor.”
    “Then you’ll just have to promise to match every new male manual labor job with a new job for a female administrator, middle manager, or clipboard-carrying important-person, even if you don’t need them.”
    “Done and done. Anyone else have any ideas about fixing the infrastructure?”
    “I don’t see anything in this plan about banning homeschools or dismantling the racist criminal justice system.”
    “We’ll re-write the whole thing. Okay, we’re 1000% over budget. How do we pay for this?”
    “Tax the rich and corporations.”
    “I’ll run that by Nike and Amazon and see what they think. Good work, everyone.”

  9. I was taught (in England in the 1960s) that the only reason the US had a half decent interstate highway system was to move ICBMs around to confuse the Russians. Isn’t that still a workable argument to justify public spending on infrastructure?

  10. The state and local governments bear primary responsibility for building and maintaining infrastructure of all types, excepting railroads, which have not yet been nationalized. Even the federal and Interstate highways were built by the states, with federal funding. State and local officials are just as complicit in kicking that infrastructure can down the road. They delay adding capacity to infrastructure as areas boom and expand. Cities have failed to maintain water and sewer systems and have the nerve to act surprised when sometimes century-old lines fail. Infrastructure is one of those things that only becomes important to most people when problems are urgent. Local politicians will brag about keeping taxes low while infrastructure crumbles. States, counties and cities spend millions on new buildings and facilities, then often fail to properly maintain them.
    In 2004, my county opened a new jail facility in February, just as the annual budgeting process was beginning. In June, we (the Sheriff’s Office) learned that the County Commissioners had zeroed out the maintenance line item in our budget proposal. Their reasoning: we had a new facility, it didn’t need any maintenance.

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