By Bob Sanchez, JMI Policy Director
Posted April 10, 2012Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott caught a lot of flak from his critics in the media soon after he took office when he nixed accepting federal dollars to build a high-speed rail link between Tampa and Orlando. However, the wisdom of that fiscally prudent decision has been validated time and again as problems surfaced in other places where the feds succeeded in tempting state and local governments to go that route.The latest evidence can be found at Governing.com, which has a story about 10 huge projects related to the nation’s transportation infrastructure. Five of those projects are proceeding, albeit after experiencing various delays. Other projects are in big trouble, however. Among them: California’s enormously expensive high-speed rail project, where the total cost ballooned to a projected $98 billion from the original estimate of $43 billion. As the Governing article explains:
       “It started off with the kind of heady promise and excitement that prompted comparisons to California’s most iconic infrastructure project, the Golden Gate Bridge.
      “The visionary plan was for 800 miles of high-speed rail lines connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco. Riders could whoosh from Southern California to Frisco in an unheard-of two hours and 40 minutes.
     “The train would reduce air pollution and ease congestion on the state’s famously clogged freeways. Construction would create tens of thousands of new jobs. Voters in 2008 approved $9.95 billion in bonds to usher in a new era of transit for the Golden State.
     “But times have changed, and the past year has been a rough one for the project. A recent poll showed that 59 percent of Californians would vote against the bonds if they could do it again. Cost estimates have grown from $43 billion to at least $98 billion, and the completion date of the first phase has been pushed back 13 years.”Now the Sacramento Bee is reporting that the office of California’s Gov. Jerry Brown – reluctant to abandon his pet project but worried that even some of California’s notoriously profligate state legislators are starting to ask questions – has produced a new estimate of the cost. According the man who during his first two terms (1975-83) earned the nickname “Governor Moonbeam,” this project won’t cost $98 billion after all; it’ll cost “only” $68.4 billion. As the ads for the office supply chain Staples say, “That was easy!” All it took was penciling in a few route changes around L.A.Meanwhile, the bigger picture here is that while billions of dollars may be squandered on transportation projects whose cost-benefit ratio suggests only a marginal value … or none, much of the rest of the nation’s infrastructure – the lifeline of commerce – has been deteriorating because of neglect. Moreover, not only have maintenance and safety been neglected, but too little has been done to expand the system to cope with growth. And what little expansion is occurring on the nation’s Interstates and other limited-access roads is occurring only because tolls are being imposed on roads that once were toll-free.Ever wonder why? Ever wonder how, 50 or so years ago, the “Greatest Generation” in a nation that was much poorer than it is now – a nation still recovering from the Great Depression, World War II, and the Korean War — managed to undertake building an Interstate highway system that was almost entirely toll free? Moreover, did you ever wonder why this system, which was mostly mapped out in the 1950s, didn’t continue to expand as traffic grew and developments such asFlorida’s Disney World brought a boom to metropolitan areas that were not well served by the Interstate system?Answer: The Interstate system, that great boon to commerce and to Americans families’ ability to travel about the country cheaply and efficiently, was a product of a bygone era when the government still did useful things with lasting benefits as opposed to encouraging successive generations to be dependent on the government.Now engineering reports say that many our nation’s highways and bridges are crumbling — and that many of them are also seriously congested, so much so that producers increasingly encounter problems when trying to move goods efficiently from point A to point B. Nonetheless, our nation’s government now seems less interested in making useful transportation improvements and instead seems more intent on maintaining various facets of the welfare state, which also sustains the huge government bureaucracies necessary to oversee the aforesaid welfare state. Indeed, the growth in entitlements at both the federal and state levels of government – and the skyrocketing deficits this growth has produced – leaves a relative pittance to invest in infrastructure.So the next time you’re stuck for hours in one of the increasingly frequent traffic snafus on one of the nation’s highways, be patient in the knowledge that somewhere in America, a 14-year-old middle-school dropout is happily using her welfare check to shop for the new baby that’s on the way.