Shalini Vajjhala has written a good article about the issues with current ways of thinking about infrastructure planning and the money spent.
She points out the game-theoretic nature of decision making the way things work now. Local and regional transportation planners and funders won’t go forward until they know they can get federal money. That means the p[lanning doesn’t start till the grants are there. This is a perfectly rational strategy.
I know of only a few places that have avoided this trap. I happen to live in an area, Sonoma County California, that built SMARTT, a passenger rail line connecting Marin County and Santa Rosa airport, with its own tax money. It got some federal money later; but it was a local initiative, led by people like Steve Birtlebough, who campaigned for over 20 years for this passenger rail line.
It also shows the fallacy of the Trump cancellation of funds for California’s high-speed train project. The money had been committed long in advance, and planning went forward. But upon its cancellation, the project fell into disarray, and is unlikely to generate the political will and statewide tax funding to continue.
You can argue whether the high-speed train is useful, since it connects two places that are not in major population centers. But every large project has people on both sides of its viability. And changing the balance without careful thought about the strategic implications makes everyone less eager to get started.
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