Inequality and Infrastructure

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

U.S. funding of infrastructure has declined dramatically since the 1960s, and Congress appears to be moving in the direction of even more cutbacks in the years ahead.

There is a bit of irony to this. With borrowing costs still very low and the market still somewhat depressed, now would be an ideal time for government to step up investment in infrastructure. In other words, it costs a lot less to build roads and bridges today than it might down the road if we hold off on the billions of dollars in needed repairs.

Sam Pizzigati laments this irony in a recent op-ed in The Star Ledger of Newark, N.J. And he has an interesting take on why infrastructure is getting short shrift: blame income inequality:

The cost of borrowing for infrastructure projects has hit record lows — and the private construction companies that do infrastructure work remain desperate for contracts. They’re charging less.

Yet our political system seems totally incapable of responding to the enormous opportunity we have before us. Center for American Progress analysts David Madland and Nick Bunker blame this political dysfunction on inequality.

The more wealth concentrates, their research shows, the feebler a society’s investments in infrastructure become. Our nation’s long-term decline in federal infrastructure investment — from 3.3 percent of GDP in 1968 to 1.3 percent in 2011 — turns out to mirror almost exactly the long-term shift in income from America’s middle class to the richest Americans.

Let the Facts Get in the Way of a Good Story: Private School Bus Services in PA Cost More

A blog post by Stephen Herzenberg, originally published at Third and State.

The standard conservative narrative is that private delivery of services and goods trumps government delivery. In Harrisburg, for example, Governor Corbett’s Council on Privatization and Innovation often presents its goal as privatization, taking for granted that this will be more efficient and cost-effective.

In fact, the record on privatization shows that in many cases privatization fails to deliver promised savings and can undercut service quality. That’s part of why Cornell Professor Mildred Warner has found that local governments often bring work back in house.

Bridges Need Repair and Little Old Ladies Are Homeless but Have We Done Enough for the Top 1%?

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

With unemployment in the construction industry at record highs, interest rates low and a deep backlog of thousands of structurally deficient bridges in need of repair, now is a great time to spend money to fix stuff do nothing!

Actually, it is not really that bad; it's worse. The Pennsylvania Legislature is spending time debating changes to the state's prevailing wage statute, even though a large body of empirical research demonstrates that changes to prevailing wage laws do not lower construction costs.  Anyway, if you find yourself in Pittsburgh, make sure your car seat also doubles as a floatation device.

A report to be issued today says the Pittsburgh metropolitan area has the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the U.S. ...

[James Corless, the director of the Washington, D.C.-based Transportation for America, said:] 'These metropolitan-area bridges are most costly and difficult to fix, but they also are the most urgent, because they carry such a large share of the nation's people and goods.'

In Case You Missed It: Third and State Blog for Week of March 7

This week on Third and State, we blogged about Governor Corbett's state budget proposal, ways to grow the economy and promote broadly shared prosperity, "Mad Men" who like fast trains, and much more!

In case you missed it:

Road to Nowhere

While it typically becomes lost in the clutter of political issues, transportation funding is an issue that affects just about everyone. In Pennsylvania, transportation funding is being held up by state senators and representatives in Harrisburg. This is unfortunate since PennDOT needs money to maintain roads and allow rail and transit agencies like SEPTA to continue to operate. Regrettably, Pennsylvania currently has a transportation funding crisis, stemming from the US DOT's rejection of tolling I-80.

Your Input Needed on Regional Transportation and Land Use Priorities

The good people at the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) are asking for your help in updating their nine county regional plan. This organization is often the gateway through which federal money is translated from earmarks or grants into actual physical construction and the planning documents that precede it. They bring you bike lanes and trails and play a leadership role in planning out transportation and land use. While we don't read much about them in the progressive blogosphere this organization is one we should partner with when possible.

Right now they are asking for input on priorities for regional transportation and land use. It only takes a few minutes and you can enter an drawing for an Ipod. The survey will be up until March 7.

DVRPC Long Range Planning Survey


The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) is conducting a public outreach survey to gather opinions on the vision for transportation and land use in the greater Philadelphia region. This is laying the groundwork for the update to the nine-county long-range plan. Please take a few minutes to fill out this short survey and give us your input at By doing so you could be eligible to win an 8 GB iPod Touch. Survey ends March 7, 2008.

Thank you,

DVRPC Long Range Planning

Greening the City Up A Bit

For the many YPP readers interested in planning and sustainability issues and urban development: Alex Steffen at WorldChanging has a terrific essay on city redevelopment titled "My Other Car is a Bright Green City." It's fairly long for a blog post, but well worth reading, as it summarizes a lot of the current thinking about green tech, density planning, and cities over the past couple of years. (See also David Owen's "Green Manhattan [PDF]," etc.)

A brief summary of Steffen:

1) Since most of the energy consumed and CO2 produced happens in the home, we should focus on how people live and work rather than (solely) the gas efficiency of the car they use to get there.

2) We need to act fast, not just because our lifestyles are out of control, but that the rest of the world emulates us.

3) This doesn't mean cars aren't important, just that tailpipes and MPG matters less than the enviro (and social!) costs of roads and infrastructure, commuting, etc.

4) If we want to turn this around, we have to promote and build denser housing developments and leverage existing high-density neighborhoods (i.e. cities and inner-ring suburbs.

5) We can do this faster and achieve higher energy gains than we can turn around the existing automotive fleet.

6) Goodies! Bike shares, transit-oriented development, New Urbanist neighborhoods. A green-city-geek's geekstuff.

Syndicate content