Amtrak’s deadly derailment last week has again re-awakened concerns that the U.S. spends too little on highways, railroads and other public infrastructure.
Lost in the debate over the quantity of federal investment, however, is an equally pressing problem: the quality of such spending.
— Greg Ip (@greg_ip) May 20, 2015
Federal infrastructure investment is not directed to the projects with the biggest payoff in productivity, safety or environmental protection. Inadequate funding, badly targeted, is a recipe for undermining the country’s long-term economic potential. Bridges raise productivity; bridges to nowhere don’t.
“Outside of a few very small new programs, it is nobody’s job in Washington to figure out which roads or bridges we should invest in,” says Aaron Klein of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank. “It is a decentralized structure where state and local authorities are highly empowered.”