Internal Improvements


This Nicholas Kulish piece from last year seems apropos today, and not just because of its unfortunately-prescient title. It's Time$elect, so here's a snippet:

Every four years the American Society of Civil Engineers grades the nation’s infrastructure. The group looks at 15 categories, from aviation to bridges, from waste water to public parks. Last year they handed out a D, down from the D+ in 2001. The report noted different problems in every sector, but a few kept popping up almost across the board: A growing population, and growing demand that is overtaxing aging, inadequate systems.

... Back in 1982 there were 232 million people in the country. Now we’re about to pass 300 million. There’s also increased international trade and movement of goods within the country. That means more and more commercial trucks prowling the interstates at all hours. Whether you’re talking about seaports, airports, railroads, canals, or highways, our transport systems need to expand to keep up with our economic activity.

But we haven’t been keeping up. The Office of Management and Budget estimates that this year the government will spend the equivalent of 0.7% of the nation’s gross domestic product — both through direct spending and through grants — on non-defense physical capital investments. That’s abysmal by historic standards. Between 1960 and 1981, that annual spending dipped below 1% of G.D.P. only once.

If you can, read the whole thing. This ought to be a major issue in the '08 campaign; even if this particular disaster turns out to be a fluke, it's a tragedy that deserves to be exploited. The decay of our infrastructure would be an ideal executive-competence issue for a Giuliani or a Romney, in particular, to seize on, though of course as with every other "vote for change" issue this election season, exploiting it would require more distance from our current "MBA President" than any Republican candidate may be able to achieve. As for the Democrats, maybe they can pin it (not entirely unfairly; as Kulish's piece points out, earmarks are a significant part of the problem) on the sins of GOP majorities past: Their slogan can be "the I-35 Bridge, Not the Bridge to Nowhere."

Update: But maybe they should, you know, wait a day or two.

Photo by Flickr user Diversey used under a Creative Commons license.