Popular Mechanics has a great piece on the myth of “shovel ready” infrastructure projects:
The programs that would meet the billâ€™s 90-day restriction are, for the most part, an unappealing mix of projects that were either shelved after being fully designed and engineered, and have since become outmoded or irrelevant, or projects with limited scope and ambition. No oneâ€™s building a smart electric grid or revamping a water system on 90 days notice. The best example of a shovel-ready project, and what engineers believe could become the biggest recipient of the transportation-related portion of the billâ€™s funding, is road resurfacingâ€”important maintenance work, but not a meaningful way to rein in a national infrastructure crisis. â€œIn developing countries, there are roads that are so bad, they create congestion, because drivers are constantly forced to slow down,â€ says David Levinson, an associate professor in the University of Minnesotaâ€™s civil engineering department. â€œThatâ€™s not the case here. If the roadâ€™s a little bit rougher, drivers will feel it, but thatâ€™s not going to cause you to go any slower. So the economic benefit of those projects is pretty low.â€
That might be acceptable to people focused purely on fostering rapid job growthâ€¹but, ironically, such stimulus spending could fall short on that measure, as well. â€œIn the 1930s, when you were literally building with shovels, that might have made sense. That was largely unskilled labor. Today, itâ€™s blue collar, but itâ€™s not unskilled,â€ Levinson says. â€œThe guy brushing the asphalt back and forth is unskilled, but the guy operating the steamroller isnâ€™t. And thereâ€™s an assumption out there that construction workers are interchangeable between residential and highway projects. But a carpenter isnâ€™t a whole lot of help in building a road.â€
It’s ironic given the I-35W bridge collapse being used as a symbol of America’s “failing infrastructure”—that collapse was the result of a design flaw that should have been spotted in the design phase. And what is our reaction to such problems? Push through a bunch of projects in a hurry rather than perform the sort of painstaking design that needs to be done before a project is truly “shovel ready.”
There is some wisdom to spending on infrastructure, but let us be honest. It won’t make a dent in the unemployment rate unless you believe that you can take a stockbroker and put her into a bulldozer and call that good enough. It won’t stimulate the economy because the money will go to government contractors who are the least affected by the economic slowdown. And what stimulus it does produce won’t be likely to come about until well after the slowdown is past. Justifying this sort of spending on the grounds of economic stimulus isn’t realistic.
If we want to spend money on infrastructure, we should do it right. That means assessing our needs in a realistic manner, spending only on projects that will make a real difference, having a realistic plan to build these projects, building them right the first time, and having a competitive bidding process to make sure that money isn’t being funneled to campaign contributors.
This bill is not about stimulus. It’s about the Democratic Party looting the future to pay off their political supporters. It is nearly 100% pure pork that will saddle the future with at least another $1,000,000,000,000 in debt—not counting interest. Even the Congressional Budget Office finds that the “stimulus” bill will just shift the costs to future generations. We can’t rob Peter to pay Paul and expect to get away with it. Recent history should demonstrate all too well why such ideas don’t work.
We need a real stimulus package, not an act of wanton irresponsibility. If President Obama were to demonstrate real leadership, he would tell Reid and Pelosi to stop playing childish partisan games and send him a bill that is nothing but stimulus and no pork—and if they refuse, he should veto it. We need real infrastructure repair, not political cronyism. The only shovel that’s ready to go is the shovel needed to clear out all the B.S. surrounding this bill.