Increasingly, over the past 25 years, as a state and federal transportation official, a consultant, teacher, and policy contributor on transportation and infrastructure issues, I have come to appreciate the role that these investments play in building economic growth and prosperity. Throughout American history, even before the birth of the Republic, investments in roads and canals (the so-called “internal improvements” that Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln and their Whig colleagues espoused), railroads and ports, highways and aviation have characterized public policy and have influenced – perhaps, more than any other single thing – where cities are located and whether they grow or decline.
From Albert Gallatin, Thomas Jefferson’s Treasury Secretary, to Dwight Eisenhower, America’s leaders have spoken of the economic and political significance of wise infrastructure investments. In the words of Gallatin, “Good roads and canals will shorten distances, facilitate commercial and personal intercourse, and unite, by a still more intimate community of interests, the most remote quarters of the United States. No other single operation, within the power of Government, can more effectually tend to strengthen and perpetuate that Union which secures external independence, domestic peace, and internal liberty.”