Obama’s Stimulus: Too Much Emphasis on Roads and Bridges?

There’s a lot of reaction from members of the the Streetsblog Network to President-elect Obama’s address this weekend. Some transit advocates, like The Transport Politic, are putting a positive spin on it, and Ryan Avent at The Bellows says, "it’s really amazing to see the wave of public intellectual criticism [for] Obama’s potential stimulus plan." Avent adds, in another post:

I have yet to see is any evidence that Obama intends to embark on a
major program of new road construction. And until we see definitive
evidence of something like that, transit supporters really ought to
calm down.

But others — like Cap’n Transit — are hearing the refrain "roads and bridges" way too many times. Trains for America puts it this way:

We here at TFA, along with practically every other blog about non-auto
transportation, have been holding our breaths waiting for anything at
all substantive about how the Obama administration is going to take
advantage of this unique time to refocus attention on our overcrowded
and underfunded transit systems.

What do you think?

Also on Streetsblog.net today, a post from The Overhead Wire about the lack of transit power brokers with the political will of Robert Moses.

  • as usual, i agree with Avent — talk is just talk — it means nothing. it’s like that whole Iraq thing — nobody actually intended to invade or anything – it was just talk.

    we should all just be quiet until Obama finalizes his plans for what he has in store for us. if we behave, maybe we’ll get some funding.

    everyone needs to calm down.

  • KateNonymous

    I’m having trouble getting too upset about this. Roads and bridges are, in many places, in significant disrepair. And since buses, delivery trucks, and any number of other vehicles that aren’t cars containing a sole person rely on bridges and roads, we all benefit from them.

    There should be investment in other forms of transit–absolutely. But bridges and roads need fixing.

  • David Brooks has an op-ed in the NYT today in which he writes:

    “This kind of stimulus would be consistent with Obama’s campaign, which was all about bringing Americans together in new ways. It would help maintain the social capital that’s about to be decimated by the economic downturn.

    But alas, there’s no evidence so far that the Obama infrastructure plan is attached to any larger social vision. In fact, there is a real danger that the plan will retard innovation and entrench the past.

    In a stimulus plan, the first job is to get money out the door quickly. That means you avoid anything that might require planning and creativity. You avoid anything that might require careful implementation or novel approaches. The quickest thing to do is simply throw money at things that already exist.”

    I don’t agree with everything Brooks says, but he makes a good point about how it’s often easier – especially in trying times – to throw money at things that already exist: Roads, bridges, existing transportation options.

  • There is so much infrastructure that needs desperate help, from roads, bridges, rails, subways, buses, dams, sewers, school buildings, electricity grids, etc. You name it, it is crumbling from neglect, and it needs repair and reinvestment.

    The failed conservative policies of the last three decades were sold to us under the false premise that all would be nirvana if only the wealthy were given tax cuts they didn’t need. In fact, the conservative movement said that so much money would come rolling back into the government coffers from economic growth, that the tax cuts would basically “pay for themselves.”

    This fallacy has been totally disproven under three different Republican Presidents, each of whom ran bigger defecits than the last, even with a Republican Congress. The conservative movement sold an economic theory that promised something for nothing. And it, surprise, surprise, didn’t work as the textbooks said it should have worked. Infrastructure needs to be repaired, maintained and in many cases expanded. And, it needs to be paid for.

    With so much need in so many areas, I really hope there is someone up there who will advocate for transit and railways. The one thing that gives me hope is that Obama is an urban President from urban America. The last administration held cities and the people in them with contempt. If any President in recent history knows the value of a quality transit system it is this President-elect. Let’s hope he remembers that.

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