When President Trump promised a trillion dollar infrastructure improvement package, some people may have thought he was blowing smoke. It can be difficult to get politicians to set aside their favorite pork projects even for something as important as infrastructure. However, Trump has been discussing options with Congress. In an effort to assist with the process, the Committee for Economic Development of The Conference Board has issued a report titled, Fixing America’s Roads and Bridges: The Path Forward.
— Equipment Today (@EquipmentToday) May 31, 2017
The nation’s transportation infrastructure could be thought of as a type of decentralized network with the National Highway System serving as the trunk lines that carry heavy traffic in the same way that fiber optic cabling carries the heavy traffic for the Internet. During periods of peak use, those trunk lines can get bogged down and slow to a crawl. Thus, infrastructure improvement would significantly improve the productivity and efficiency of the country.
To deal with the congestion problem, the Committee for Economic Development (CED) recommends modernizing the highway system with new technologies that are designed to communicate with driverless cars and route traffic as efficiently as possible. A system designed to handle communications with driverless cars should include information on possible hazardous conditions, as well as real-time traffic and weather reports.
The CED also recommends implementing user fees that can rise or fall depending on traffic levels at any given time of day. For an extra fee, drivers may be able to make use of a “fast lane” that helps avoid congestion. This would be an effective tool that would be put right back into maintaining roads and bridges and encourage drivers to choose alternate routes during periods of heavy traffic if at all possible. This alone will help to reduce congestion.
Private enterprises are encouraged to take ownership of the process of improving infrastructure. This includes improvements to project selection that takes politics out of the process and creates more predictable pricing and timetables. Project selection will be based on the needs of the system rather than the whims of politicians who may wish to reward cronies or court voters with the promise of more blue-collar jobs when selecting projects. The report encourages placing more emphasis on objective engineering reviews.
Private enterprise would have to give a more accurate cost analysis for each project and will face penalties for delays in the completion of each project. Businesses will also have the incentive to invest in new, cost-saving technologies.
— CED (@CEDupdate) May 31, 2017
The report also calls for increased public education so that American taxpayers are informed of the complexities that go into funding infrastructure maintenance. Most taxpayers assume that the maintenance of roads and bridges is already adequately funded and bureaucracy is the only thing that gets in the way of their local stretch of the National Highway System being neglected. However, important infrastructure projects that could have helped to relieve congestion or improve the condition of bridges have been shelved due to politics. If the public is made more aware of the factors that go into funding infrastructure projects, taxpayers are more likely to support a plan like the CED’s.
From “Trillion Dollar Plan” to Concrete Plan
Many voters hear that a politician wants to spend so much money on a project and they think that it amounts to more taxpayer money that won’t be spent on anything except a bloated government bureaucracy. Trump wants to spend a trillion dollars on the infrastructure, but no one will believe it until they see crews working on their local roads and bridges. That makes the CED report a good thing because it presents a plan that shows what taxpayers will be getting for the money.
— CED (@CEDupdate) June 2, 2017
The real truth is that the infrastructure needs to be improved. Bridges in the National Highway System were originally designed to take the weight of millions of cars, pickup trucks, and semi trucks rolling over them. However, they are subject to weaknesses in the materials used to build them and wear out over time because the busier sections of the highway system have millions of vehicles rolling over them over time. The materials are also subject to seasonal weather changes that cause them to subtly expand and contract repeatedly over time and that puts additional stress on infrastructure elements. That means that infrastructure elements like bridges should be regularly inspected and maintained so that they don’t collapse.
Unfortunately, politicians don’t always move in a timely fashion to repair infrastructure along the National Highway System if there isn’t any political incentive to do so. That’s something that President Trump and the Committee for Economic Development would like to change so that infrastructure elements do not become dangerous and congestion is not improved simply because there was no political will to do so.