Quick Thought on the ASCE Report

In summarizing the American Society of Civil Engineers latest report on U.S. infrastructure needs, John Schwartz notes the following:

The report is showing progress in six areas, including bridges, rail, wastewater and drinking water. No category saw a lower grade than that given in the previous report, though the nation’s inland ports, waterways and levees received a near-flunking grade of D-. (The full report can be downloaded, along with interactive analysis of all 50 states, at www.infrastructurereportcard.org.)

Some connected trends have led to the shift, according to the engineering organization. It cited a rise in the private financing of public projects and renewed attention from state and local government to kick-start their own projects, rather than wait for Washington to send money. [Emphasis added]

The fact that renewed attention at the state and local level proved beneficial reinforces my general sense that devolving responsibility for surface transportation to state governments would do a great deal of good.

And while we’re on the subject of transportation and infrastructure, I recommend Robert Poole and Baruch Feigenbaum’s replies to “A New Alignment,” a Brookings Institution report on the state of Amtrak. In “A New Alignment,” Robert Puentes, Adie Tomer and Joseph Kane offer an optimistic take on the national passenger rail service, noting that Amtrak’s ridership has grown by an impressive 55 percent since 1997. The problem, as Poole notes, drawing on an assessment by Randal O’Toole, is that the increase in ridership since 1991 is only 8 percent. Feigenbaum objects to the fact that the Brookings report overlooks the growth of intercity coach travel, despite the fact that the rise of innovative coach services has greatly improved the cost and convenience of traveling between large U.S. cities. Poole takes the Brookings scholars to task for assessing the viability of different Amtrak routes in a somewhat idiosyncratic manner. One hopes that there will be more passenger rail development outside of Amtrak, e.g., the new All Aboard Florida initiative. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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