Public transportation

New York's Subway Boondoggles Illustrate How Governments Bungle Infrastructure

Why don't "we" build anything anymore? Because corrupt unions and politicians recognize a guaranteed payday when they see it


Who's ready for $1 trillion of this! ||| Matt Welch
Matt Welch

Back when then-president Barack Obama used to lament and lament some more that the United States no longer builds amazing infrastructure projects like the Golden Gate Bridge (setting aside for the moment that it wasn't the federal government that created America's finest span), buzzkills like us would point out that A) the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included a whopping $105 billion for infrastructure, characterized by Obama at the time as "the largest new investment in our nation's infrastructure since Eisenhower built an Interstate Highway System in the 1950s," and B) "Every dollar that governments spend on every level gets inflated by contracting rules, social engineering, environmental aspirations, and sops to public sector unions."

A detailed and infuriating illustration of that latter point comes in today's New York Times, which, following up on a previous indictment of how the city and state of New York have let the subway degenerate into almost comical disrepair, deconstructs "The Most Expensive Mile of Subway Track on Earth." The nut:

For years, The Times found, public officials have stood by as a small group of politically connected labor unions, construction companies and consulting firms have amassed large profits.

Trade unions, which have closely aligned themselves with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and other politicians, have secured deals requiring underground construction work to be staffed by as many as four times more laborers than elsewhere in the world, documents show.

Construction companies, which have given millions of dollars in campaign donations in recent years, have increased their projected costs by up to 50 percent when bidding for work from the M.T.A., contractors say.

Consulting firms, which have hired away scores of M.T.A. employees, have persuaded the authority to spend an unusual amount on design and management, statistics indicate.

Public officials, mired in bureaucracy, have not acted to curb the costs. The M.T.A. has not adopted best practices nor worked to increase competition in contracting, and it almost never punishes vendors for spending too much or taking too long, according to inspector general reports.

As a resident of the Empire State, I do not want to hear another goddamned word out of Chuck Schumer's mouth about how the forthcoming federal infrastructure spending plan must be 100 percent public.

When Democrats talk about the evils and corporatey-corporateness of letting (involuntary shudder) private companies finance and maintain stuff like roads and bridges and trains and tunnels and airports, know what they are defending: a system of money-sloshing shielded at all levels from the discipline of competition. You just want the one percent to get richer!, they will cry, as the status quo they defend continues to build bupkus while diverting taxpayer money to the millionaire friends of the Cuomo dynasty.

There is a better way. For those serious not about graft but about building and maintaining the best and most cost-effective transportation infrastructure at all levels, begin with the half-century's worth of work put into this topic by Bob Poole and the Reason Foundation. Here's hoping the infrastructure bill resembles Poole's vision more than the corrupt swamp from which President Donald Trump emanated.