Tuesday, January 24, 2012

This Infrastructure Crisis, Mr. Utt

An opinion published in the ViewPoint section of the Austin American-Statesman, on Friday the 16th of December 2011, was titled, “What Infrastructure Crisis?” by Ronald D. Utt of the Heritage Foundation (also found on the Heritage Foundation's website: www.Heritage.org ). I'd like to offer multiple corrections to the article. You can find and read the original article in either the newspaper's or the Heritage Foundation's archives.

First, Mr. Utt, an economist, disses the civil engineering (CE) professionals' perspective of a badly worn, worn-out, common carrier infrastructure across the entire United States. The CE perspective is shared by mechanical engineers (ME), electrical engineers (EE) and materials scientists (MS), plus the many folks who drive on the roads and bridges of the USA. Those who survived, and the next of kin of those who did not survive, the collapse of a bridge on Interstate Highway (IH) 35 (in Minneapolis, MN.) are especially aware.

It apparently hasn't occurred to Mr. Utt that decades of use, combined with exposure to the weather, wears out things like roads and bridges.

Next, is the attempt to deny that an infrastructure bank, to fund road and bridge (plus: water, sewage and electric power distribution infrastructure) maintenance and replacement, would employ a large number of people. It seems as if Mr. Utt has never observed work being done along the roads he commutes every day.

Next, he lists what he understands to be common carrier infrastructure, mistakenly including: residential housing, manufacturing facilities, office buildings, hotels, shopping centers, cars, trucks and buses.

Continuing to misinform, he compares our government's managed infrastructure with that of the former Soviet Union. Our crisis was created by the failed, Republican policy of 'supply side economics' (aka, trickle down economics) that under budgeted for operation, maintenance and replacement of infrastructure, preferring to market the idea that we should sell these facilities to private, for profit, industry; not the result of the actions of an authoritarian oligarchy billing itself as a dictatorship of the proletariat.

Common carrier infrastructure is a function of government because, when done correctly, it is quite expensive and must serve everybody; even where population density is so sparse that a profitable return on investment isn't possible. Mr. Utt declares that privately accomplished facilities would thrive, except that (once again) his examples are multiple things that are not infrastructure.

In Texas there is an example of a privately built toll road (the Camino Columbia Toll Road) that failed in less than five years, as drivers proved that they would rather be stopped in heavy traffic than pay profitable toll rates. We have more toll roads that were not built by TxDOT (Texas Department of Transportation) but are being subsidized by TxDOT, because they are not bringing in the projected toll revenue; said infrastructure is not, as was promised, self-sufficient.

What had worked, for decades, for transportation infrastructure is publicly owned and operated, by municipal, state and/or federal DOT. These facilities are supported by state and federal taxes on the fuels used by the vehicles that travel on these roads. While vehicles have gotten more efficient, inflation has made provisioning more expensive and fuel taxes have stagnated (since 1991 federal and 1993 in Texas) common carrier infrastructure has been utterly underfunded by supply side benefactors in Republican administrations (President, Governor and Legislators).

There really is a very significant infrastructure problem in the United States that should already be being addressed. It would be incredibly unfortunate if more folks were to be injured or killed before proper attention is devoted to resolving this crisis.

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