Reihan Salam at National Review on Hillary Clinton’s Infrastructure Speech
Different infrastructure services require different kinds of expertise, in large part because they depend on different business models, some of which are more conducive to public investment than others. I’m a heretic on the subject of our highway system. I don’t think our main problem is that we’re not spending enough on highways, as Clinton seems to believe. If anything, I think our highway system is overbuilt [emphasis added]. Beyond handing over responsibility over highways to states, which should in turn hand over responsibility to independent road enterprises that operate on sane, commercial lines, I’d say the federal government would do us all a favor by getting out of the way.
What we do is more important than how much we spend. And I of course agree that we are mostly overbuilt, which the environmental community has been saying for years, as have local community groups opposing specific projects, and Strong Towns more recently. The problem is we don’t know how much because we underprice both infrastructure and the externalities of transportation. The daily shortages of roadspace we call congestion arise because people perceive travel as costing less to themselves than its real social cost. No one pays for the delay they cause others, we all pay for the delay others cause us. Moving beyond this Soviet style resource allocation is the most important thing we can do now to address congestion, far more than the few widening projects we could actually afford.
Once we have pricing with the right governance structure, we will see far less congestion and traffic along with higher quality roads that are properly funded and maintained. Nothing is a sliver bullet, but this is as close as you can get in the road sector.