Does the USA need less infrastructure?

I’ve posted a good bit about the deteriorating U.S. infrastructure and the need to do something about it. Paul Trombino, the head of the Iowa Department of Transportation, raises a possibility I hadn’t thought about, which is that the U.S. has more infrastructure than is really needed.

Iowaopenroad-1He suggests a planned triage: Determine which roads, bridges and other facilities are necessary and make sure to keep them in good repair. Get rid of the rest.

As someone brought up in the old expanding America, I hate to think of public policy in terms of managed contraction. But maybe this is what we have come to. It is better than allowing the system as a whole to deteriorate.

Republicans in Congress have balked at funding the Federal Highway Trust Fund, which is needed to keep American roads, bridges and public rail systems in good repair.

But I bet that if the Department of Transportation submitted a list of highways, bridges and public transit systems not worth maintaining, they wouldn’t like that, either.


Iowa DOT Chief: The system is going to shrink by Charles Marohn for Strong Towns.

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3 Responses to “Does the USA need less infrastructure?”

  1. tiffany267 Says:

    Many libertarians might suggest privatizing infrastructure so that market demands dictate what infrastructure stays, what goes, and what gets improved on. It would be interesting to see what roads, museums, libraries, and other such systems might prove less popular than we think they are as soon as we insist users pay for the services they use!


    • philebersole Says:

      The original robber barons were feudal lords who took control of vital transportation hubs and bottlenecks — bridges, key crossroads and paths through mountain valleys — and demanded huge payments from travelers passing through.

      I think that if state and local governments turn over vital transportation facilities to monopolistic business owners, you will have the equivalent.

      The private enterprise is of great benefit when there is competition and informed choice, and beneficial innovations are rewarded by the marketplace.

      I don’t see any of these things coming about by turning over vital roads, bridges or transit systems to private owners.


  2. Perette Barella Says:

    I have long wondered about social downsizing. Politicians always tell us to the solution to our unemployment woes is expanding the economy, but it seems to me that technology allows us to accomplish more with less labor. I’ve thought that maybe instead of expanding the economy, we need to contract the population to match our needs.

    When I look at the holistic picture, lowering population would not only fix unemployment but wage disparity, because the glut of labor lowers our value. It’s hard to demand a salary increase when there’s someone desperately looking for a job, who is willing to do the work for your current wage, or perhaps even less. Were labor needs in balance with labor available, fair wages would be attainable.

    Furthermore, lowering our numbers would help mitigate the environmental changes our thriving species causes. In fact, get our numbers sufficiently under control and it doesn’t matter if we burn coal or other dirty fuels—the earth an sink a certain amount of CO2 and other abuses. Those non-renewable resources might last quite a long time were our numbers were managed better.

    Of course, regulating population requires either an invasive law, or a lot of rational forward-looking by society. I recognize, therefore, that it will probably never happen. But in pondering a utopian future, I’ve imagined variations on scaling back, from simply shrinking our numbers, to futures where advanced tech like the Internet exists but farming is a Amish-like, labor-intensive work done with animals because we’ve depleted fuels.

    What I think is more likely, however, is more of the sort of thing that has already happened. In Rochester, 590 north of Titus along with South, East, and University Avenues have been downsized from two travel lanes to one. Unneeded housing stock gets abandoned, deteriorates, and eventually knocked down. Abandoned industrial sites are gradually reclaimed by nature. As I’ve biked around rural New York, there are places where roads were formerly asphalt, but have returned to dirt; where I grew up, a few roads have been closed entirely. In some places I’ve been, bridges over larger rivers have been closed and vehicle traffic must find alternate routes. Hiking in the outback, I sometimes see evidence of former farms or roads, that are now just foundations and berms. In the Catskills there are hamlets that were once full of life; now dilapidation is everywhere, and a sense most of the buildings have overstayed their welcome.

    Liked by 1 person

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