The Daily Parker

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The frustration of US infrastructure spending

Every time I travel to a country that competes seriously with the US, I come back feeling frustrated and angry that we consistently lose. In every measure except our military, on a per-capita basis we keep sliding down the league tables. We have more people in prison, more people in poverty, worse health-care outcomes, more health-care spending, more regressive taxation, worse environmental regulation, and more crime (and more gun crime) than most our peers.

We also have horrible infrastructure. For a book-length list of reasons, we've spent the last century building out a car-dependent environment that contributes to all of the problems I listed above. (Oh, right: we have by far more road deaths than any of our peers, a direct result of our built environment and car fetishization.)

City Nerd really drives home (ah, ha ha) how our infrastructure priorities continue to degrade our economic power by making travel unnecessarily difficult. In today's video, Ray Delahanty explains why Spain (GDP: $1.5 T, rank 15) has half-hourly trains to whisk people from Madrid to Valencia (359 km) in under 2 hours, while the United States (GDP: $26.9 T, rank 1) can't get people from New York to Boston (362 km) in under 3½—and for 4x the rail fare:

Some things Delahanty doesn't mention: First, we've built so many roads that we can't even maintain all of them, even with a $1 trn infrastructure bill that struggled to get through Congress. Second, even if we wanted to upgrade our rail network (for example, to electrify anything outside the Northeast Corridor), governments or transit districts will have to buy existing rights of way or the land to create new ones, because private companies own almost all of the railways in the US. (Notably, of the three heavy-rail lines in Chicago with public ownership—the Rock Island district, the Metra Electric, and the South Shore Line—two are already electric and there are plans to electrify the third.)

Look, I'm not a socialist; I believe in private property. But as I've said often, governments can do things private interests can't or won't. We put 14 people on the Moon and we won World War II. We could, if we collectively wanted, get the US out of the 20th Century on so many issues. Transit infrastructure would be a good place to start. The more I travel and see how our European peers do things, the more I wonder if I'll ever see my own country get back on par with them.

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