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marmar Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Aug-16-11 01:59 PM
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Addicted to Roads

from Grist:

Breaking free from the infrastructure cult of roads

by Charles Marohn
16 Aug 2011 9:20 AM

Cross-posted from Strong Towns.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has just released a report that should be titled "Pretending it is 1952." Like a broken record, ASCE is again painting a bleak picture of the future if American politicians -- as if they need to be plied -- won't open up the checkbook for our noble engineers. And in a way that the Soviet Central Committee would have expected from Pravda, the media and blogger world is sounding the alarm. This feels more like a cult than a serious discussion on America's future.

In the Long Depression of the 1870s, the railroads found they had overinvested in transportation capacity. Speculating on future growth and the returns on land development, they collectively built more rail lines than could be put to productive use. The result was a huge financial correction in which the private-sector railroads consolidated their routes, downsized their unproductive infrastructure, and put their reserve capacity into endeavors that had a higher rate of return. This was a painful, but necessary, correction.

The parallels to 2011 are obvious. We've built out the interstate highway system as it was originally envisioned -- although we opted to go through cities instead of around as planned -- and then we built some more. We poured money into highways, county roads, and local streets. We have so much transportation infrastructure -- a huge proportion of it with no productivity -- that every level of government is now choking on maintenance costs.

While originally conceived in the name of "national defense," these investments were made in the service of "growth" and the belief that all increases in mobility, no matter how insignificant, would add to the overall prosperity. We've spent trillions to save seconds in the first and last mile of each trip, and what we've gotten is the fake prosperity of a land-use pattern that is bankrupting us, housing bubble and all. This is the essence of the financial correction we are experiencing. ............(more)

The complete piece is at:

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