Politics

Success: Empty City, No Business, Carpool Lane, Unfinished Job

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As a I predicted yesterday, the government is already trying to spin a story of success out of its outrageously overhyped closure of a stretch of a Los Angeles freeway. Contractor Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. finished the first half of the demolition of a bridge along Interstate 405 17 hours ahead schedule. The road work attracted international fanfare and media panic that depleted activity throughout the City of Angels. The job will be finished next year, during another weekend-long closure of The 405 between Interstate 10 in the south and U.S. Highway 101 in the north. 

The Los Angeles MTA anounces the news with a propaganda photo as creepy and totalitarian as anything Rachel Maddow ever stood next to and got a got a deepdown tingle from: 

Carmageddon: Mulholland Bridge still standing after work completed July 17 2011.

But a California DOT spokeswoman warns against premature optimism, and describes the dire consequences of allowing drivers to think for themselves:

"So far, so good," California Department of Transportation spokeswoman Judy Gish told CNN early Saturday afternoon. She acknowledged Californians have now coined a new word to replace the "Carmageddon" buzzword.

"Carmaheaven, I've heard that," Gish said. "Well, you know, I think what's important to address is if people start driving as usual, we will have Carmaggedon.

"It's been relatively light because people have been listening to the message, and they are not out on the road. We want to make sure they don't get complacent and say, 'There's nothing to get alarmed about and I may as well go out.' And if they do, we may see those delays that we warned them about," Gish said.

I know you're all tired of hearing about Carmageddon. I was tired of Carmageddon myself days ago. But it should be noted that we had a textbook Public Choice phenomenon occur in Los Angeles, which attracted national media attention, and yet we are already in danger of believing this was a government success. We have the distributed costs of day-to-day shitty road conditions in L.A.; we have the concentrated benefits for a service of dubious public benefit (Kiewit is in line for a performance bonus, a good exercise in the math Los Angeles Chief Administrative Officer Miguel Santana once described to me: "In the public sector you get a bonus for doing your job"); and we have something I don't even think Mancur Olson predicted: the concentrated cost of having America's second largest city shut down for a weekend. 

Yet the people who have paid this last cost — the good people of Los Angeles and Orange County and other parts of California, and even people from around the world who avoided LAX this weekend — will not get any credit other than a pat on the head for heeding the government's warnings. In fact, they'll be expected to thank the authorities for a job well (make that half-) done.