The Campaign Spot

Those Perennially-Crumbling Roads and Bridges

Just about a year ago, I observed that no matter how much the federal government spends on “infrastructure,” we still get predictable cries that “we need to do something about our crumbling infrastructure.” The need to fix “crumbling roads and bridges” a perennial rallying cry in President Obama’s speeches, even though he touts the stimulus as “the largest new investment in our nation’s infrastructure since Eisenhower.” The government spends enormous sums of money, but there’s never any sign of it having an impact, at least in the rhetoric of those who want to spend more.

From the Congressional Budget Office last month: “From 2008 to 2011, total government spending on surface transportation infrastructure—highways, mass transit, and passenger rail—surpassed $200 billion a year. The federal government spent more than $50 billion a year—mostly in the form of grants to state and local entities, which then determined what projects to fund—and state and local governments spent more than $150 billion a year of their own funds. The private sector also invested in such infrastructure.”

Now in a new television ad, Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren asks, “Why aren’t we rebuilding America?”

The U.S. Department of Transportation had a budget of $72 billion last year. Looking through the DOT budget, I see $441 million for “administrative expenses” in the Federal Highway Administration, $25 million in “administrative expenses” for the Federal Highway Traffic Safety Grants. According to Recovery.gov, as of July 20, $765.2 billion in stimulus funding has been paid out — meaning $74.8 billion is still not paid out, three years later. (The stimulus is scored at $840 billion under the CBO’s new figures, not the previously-discussed $787 billion figure.)

Is the problem really that America isn’t spending enough on its infrastructure, or that it doesn’t spend its already-gargantuan sums well enough?

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