Government Spending

Is Our Bridges Crumbling? Maybe, But Definitely Less Than They Used to Be.


Over at National Review's The Corner, Reason columnist and Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy discusses her recent experience testifying before the Joint Economic Committee on infrastructure spending.

She includes this chart that was used by one of her co-testifiers, Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute. Edwards notes that for all the talk of bridges falling down, that particular bit of infrastructure is in better shape than it has been in a long, long time.

De Rugy's own testimony focused on whether infrastructure spending can be stimulative. The short answer, like the long answer, is no. According to the master's theory, Keynesian stimuli need to be targeted, timely, and temporary. None of those really applies to public-sector infrastructure spending, which is plagued by planning and construction delays and cost overruns, and uses a specialized work force that tends to get pulled off other projects. De Rugy concludes:

Economists have long recognized the value of infrastructure. Roads, bridges, airports, canals, and other projects are the conduits through which goods are exchanged. However, it doesn't mean that the federal government should be funding infrastructure projects. Rather, it should devolve this function to the states or,better yet, leave it to the private sector. Moreover, whatever its merits, because infrastructure spending does not provide much of a stimulus to an economy—especially if that economy needs long-term, sustainable jobs—it should not be used as a jobs program.

Read her testimony here.

Original NRO blog post here.

Bonus video: Simon and Garfunkel perform Bridge Over Troubled Water in NY's Central Park (1981):

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  1. Yes, I think they is.

  2. After all those years, I’m still jealous of Garfunkel’s afro…

    1. Jewfro. It’s called a Jewfro.

  3. infrastructure spending does not provide much of a stimulus to an economy?especially if that economy needs long-term, sustainable jobs?it should not be used as a jobs program.


  4. Our bridges is crumbling? Say it aren’t so!

  5. Sorry Reason. But I’m going to have to side with my #1 babe Michelle on this one.

    1. Warren, infrastructure spending may be perfectly justified for reasons to do with the public safety and public good.

      The argument bering made here is that it shouldn’t be used for job creation.

      1. “infrastructure spending may be perfectly justified for reasons to do with the public safety and public good”

        I take issue with that.

        1. It doesn’t need to be government spending.

  6. The state of infrastructure is highly dependent on the region in question. The NE is in bad shape, particularly the public water and sewer systems.

    Newer structures in California and the West tend to be in better shape overall. DC is in pretty good on the road conditions because of the massive amounts of money spent on them over the last decade.

    In our area, the bridges are in poor condition, having not been maintained. The Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel pilings are in pathetic shape. At least 20% of them are considered class 5, which is nearing the state where they become non-repairable. Fully 60% of the pilings are overdue for repair. I have personally seen 3 foot chunks of concrete hanging from the underside of bridges by the rebar in our area.

    1. What are they spending your gasoline taxes on? Trolley cars?

      1. Here in the NYC area, they spend the gasoline taxes to subsidize mass transit, among other things. And the Port Authority is tolls and toll increases to fund the construction at the WTC.

    2. There is NO REASON why we should have any transportation infrastructure issues beyond sheer incompetence related to long term capital planning. It’s one of the few areas where the revenue stream is very specific to the task at hand.

      What I’ve seen happen is that because the revenue stream is so reliable, government tends to bond it to cover other holes.

      It drives me nuts.

  7. My crumbling bridge has multiple twitter accounts. 2 of them are sometimes funny.

  8. Never knew there was a Black guy in Simon & Garfunkel. I learn the coolest things here!

  9. This might be the result of internal migration to Texas and other regions, and the resulting need for new infrastructure to support these new migrants. I.e, for every bridge in NY that is crumbling, there could be two new ones in Texas.

    1. Another point is how many/what percentage of vehicle miles are diven on FO and SD bridges out there? My hypothesis would be the FO and SD are in precisely the areas you don’t want them to be, heavy traffic arteries in major metros (e.e the Tappan Zee). This has a significant effect on commercial development.

      Driving in a place like Japan or Germany really opens your eyes to how shitty and pothole ridden highways are in the US.

  10. Is they really?

    I don’t think they is.

    Well… maybe they is, but maybe they isn’t.

  11. If there is “crumbling” infrastructure in a state, let them increase their own gas tax. Get rid of the federal gas tax. I guess the feds might be interested in their interstates lining up at state boundaries, but other than that, why the heck do taxpayers in Montana pay for offramps in Memphis? And for the knobs who always complain that some states get more money back from the feds than they pay in, that would solve that problem also.

    From the Wash Post article: “And while that D from the American Society of Civil Engineers is undoubtedly sincere, the organization has a vested interest in greater infrastructure spending, which means more work for engineers. The engineers’ lobby has given America’s infrastructure a D in every one of its report cards going back to 1998, except for 2001, when the mark was D-plus.”

    And as far as the American Society of Civil Engineers being a credible? Ha Ha, a bunch of pocket protecting, calculator carrying, no nooky getting boobs being a vested interest? Well, yea. Remember there is no such thing as a “civil” engineer.

    1. Remember there is no such thing as a “civil” engineer.

      Similarly and unrelatedly, there are no “Social Workers” working at for-profit corporations. Which is all the data I need to conclude that social work is 99% bullshit fucking around.

      1. I honestly don’t even know what a social worker does.

        1. Neither do social workers.

        2. They get paid by the government to tell people what is in their own self interest.

        3. They organize communities

          No, I do not know the definitions of “organize” nor “communities” in that particular context. But that’s what they do.

        4. My sister goes and babysits kids while her partner talks to the parents about how their return from their deployment went.

    2. Privatize the fucking interstates, full title. They can easily be profitable as toll roads. No fuel tax required. Why should lawnmowers be paying for roads?

    3. ASCE loves its fucking central planning. They are on a job protectionism campaign to increase requirements (which have nothing to do with real qualifications) for individuals to call themselves professionals. Its all about concentrating control over people, methods, funding, etc. at the top.

  12. Maybe if consumers directly felt the cost of transportation ? that is, if they had to pay companies to use roads, instead of travelers being subsidized by the gov’t ? there wouldn’t be as many roads. And thus, more people would walk or bike or public transit.

    Maybe if there weren’t laws requiring X number of parking spaces in front of Target, Target would build a lot appropriate for the smaller number of drivers.

    Now, I’m no AGW guy, but it does seem to me that all of this sprawl and driving around is an extremely poor use of resources. And to the extent that there is harmful anthropogenic climate change, it can very directly be blamed on the government’s subsidization of the middle-class automobile driver.

    1. I agree that we shouldn’t subsidizes or mandate one particular life style, but in the NYC region, it’s the urban lifestyle that gets subsidized. For decades, cities got state aid on the grounds that they were poor and needy. This year, Scientific American had a special edition on cities. An article in it showed that larger metropolises had larger per capital incomes that smaller metropolises. The author took this as proof that the feds and sates should fund large metropolises so they could boost income.

      Maybe if we stopped subsidizing New York City, people would realize that building a 60 story tower in an underdeveloped part of White Plains, NY is more efficient than tearing down a 60 story building to make space for a 100 story building in Manhattan.

  13. why the heck do taxpayers in Montana pay for offramps in Memphis?

    Actually the dollar flow is probably the opposite. Federal highway spending per capita is quite a bit higher in the giant sparsely populated western states than in the more compact eastern ones.

    And one of the justifications given for the imbalance is that we in the rest of the country need a road to get shit from one side of Montana to the other, not because any of us wants to do anything in Montana. 🙂

    Mostly kidding above. I love Montana, except for the bits that have been occupied by Hollywood types and eastern liberals.

    1. Point taken, let me rephrase it. Why do people in Memphis pay to widen or resurface a road in Montana? It seems to me it would be most important for the people in Montana to tax themselves to pay for such upgrades or maintenance. And like I mentioned earlier, getting rid of the national gas tax would alleviate the problem and let states adjust their own gas taxes. Besides how much of the federal gas tax is taken away from road construction to go to mass transit, bikes paths, Newt’s consulting fees, etc?

      1. I actually wasn’t disputing your overall point. Note that much of my comment was tongue-in-cheek.

        Last I saw, about 15% of the federal fuel tax is siphoned off for mass transit at the federal level. That is that money is given to states with the direct mandate that it be used for mass transit. Another percentage that I can’t find any numbers on is then used by the states for mass transit after it given to them by the feds.

        At one time, federal funds were supposed to be used for roadway construction (which includes drainage as well as the pavement) and any part of the road not used by cars (ie sidewalks and bike lanes) had to be paid for with state money (and some states even had the same restrictions on state gas tax money so that if a city or county wanted sidewalks in a builtup area they had to pay for it with local taxes).

      2. If you’re on the interstate in Memphis I would suggest you avoid any offramp. Arrive alive!

  14. The government’s definition of “structurally deficient” includes lots of safe and useable roads and bridges, such as the one lane roads on the way to Hana, Maui, carved out of a sheer cliff, where it is impossible to get two lanes of traffic built.

  15. It’s all about bridges saved or created. Bridges saved or created.
    That’s what it’s all about.

    Meaning – yes – the Hokey Pokey is NOT what it’s all about. Sorry to ruin your illusion.

  16. “Functionally obsolete” just means the component can’t be used for everything that all people want to use it for. So fucking what.

  17. thank you a lotssssssssssssssssss

  18. thank you a lotssssssssssssssssss

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