Source: Spiegel

Category: Economy, Investing, Really, really bad calls

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

80 Responses to “Discuss: USA Infrastructure Dead Last In Trains and Roads”

  1. capitalistic says:

    I would love to hear the anti-government folks suggest that the private sector should “build the US infrastructure system”…

    • willid3 says:

      they do. its called toll roads. course some have already outsourced airports too.

      • eideard says:

        Another blissful ignorant. Virtually all toll roads are government construction. When they’re paid off, governments often remove the toll. Sometimes required by law.

        Unless they sell the road to a for-profit corporation which keeps the toll forever.

    • CitizenWhy says:

      Private jets. That’s all that matters to the elite. Therefore that’s all that matters to the USA.

  2. chartist says:

    We should be dead last in trains, most want to drive….And if the rail infrastructure needs rebuilt, let Buffet and company build it….as far as roads go, raise the fuel tax. We don’t pay nearly enough for gasoline compared to the rest of the world.

    • canfieldj33 says:

      If I remember my HS physics right, if you double a car’s weight (2x), the force it hits the road increases by 9x. so a 40,000-lbs. semi does way more damage to the road than a 4,000-lbs. family car.

      so given the burden of gas taxes/registration fees/etc., the current system is a big subsidy to UPS/truckers by ordinary drivers.

      their lobby can argue that consumers make up for it via lower freight costs, but a subsidy is a subsidy.

      • TrainStation says:

        It’s worse than you think.

        A typical 40 ton tractor trailer does as much damage to the roads as 9,600 cars. This is common knowledge with highway/transportation engineers.

      • WallaWalla says:

        It’s definitely a big subsidy, but judging from my experiences working at the statehouse, trucking lobby interests are deeply rooted in transportation politics. They fight sensible bills such as idling bans and large-particulate air regulations (diesel fumes). They’re just another lobby group with more influence than is deserved.

        It’s not really the force increases faster than a linear rate, however the damage done by a particular load is related to the load by a power of four. This means that a single 18,000lb axel (typical big rig) does the equivalent of 3,333x the damage of an 2,000lb axel (typical car)!

        For more info on the Equivalent Single Axel Load see this PavementInteractive article.

    • rd says:

      Vehicles have become more fuel efficient and now there are alternative fuel vehicles. So raising the gas tax (not raised for a long time) is only a partial solution.

      Trucks are the main destroyer of roads. They are effectively subsidized by car drivers and general revenue tax payers. Meanwhile, the rail industry is largely funded with private sector money.

      The US needs to figure out more fair, equitable and effective ways of funding infrastructure. Bleating about subsidies to Amtrack while income taxes and property taxes pays for road infrastructure is a very bizarre situation.

    • victor says:

      “…raise the fuel tax..We don’t pay nearly enough for gasoline compared to the rest of the world”.

      Yah right! that would sure help the working stiff driving his p/u truck 30 miles each way to/fro a minimum wage job! what world are you living in? btw check out Venezuela/Saudi Arabia gas prices, lol

  3. ironman says:

    Hmm. The highest ranking countries (above the OECD average), except for Switzerland (always an outlier), all share a common characteristic – the ones making the biggest “investments” in roads and transportation are the ones that racked up the most debt from 2000-2010. Wonder how that worked out for them.

    • capitalistic says:

      Sure. So let’s not invest in our infrastructure, since terrible infrastructure helps businesses.

    • funkright says:

      Maybe you should look at how the USA highway and telecom infrastructure buildout worked? Effectively built your nation. Naysayers at the same time, all sounded like you.

    • Cato says:

      I love the way you just dismiss Switzerland, hilarious. Maybe it should be dismissed as an outlier on the gun control debate also, right?

    • willid3 says:

      some of tjem (Japan) seems to be big in exports. if you economy is based on building and selling stuff, you had better have good roads and trains. or you wont go far with that

  4. catman says:

    What can you say. Here in Minnesota we tore up the streetcar system in the name of progress decades ago. Now we are building light rail and a streetcar. Then there is all the money we have poured into the money losing airline industry. The old rail terminals are right downtown and you can’t fly them into buildings.

  5. mpappa says:

    Unions should loosen up or the system should privatize. Acela is laughable. Invite competition to bid every 5 years.

    • I have no idea what “Unions should loosen up” means in the real world.

      Also, the system won’t privatize because this serves a non money making purpose — to move people quickly and easily amongst major population centers on the east coast.

      There are desirable goals that the private sector cannot handle, and are government responsibilities. National defense, standards & measures, food inspections, etc. This is one of them.

    • bear_in_mind says:

      @mpappa: The 1980′s are calling and they want their “Unions are the problem” meme back!

      In case you hadn’t looked-up and noticed (which clearly is difficult when you’re eyes are fixed on avoiding dragging your knuckles against blunt objects — ahem), union membership has shrunk from 24 percent of the working population in 1973 to just a hair above 1 in 10 workers (11.2 percent) in 2012.

      The good news is that Americans have never had as many choices on where to purchase a latte from baristas making $7.25 per hour. Now that’s Fifty Shades of Economic Awesomeness!

      Index of Tables: Union Membership and Coverage Database from the CPS
      By Barry Hirsch, Georgia State University and David Macpherson, Trinity University

      Labor Unions in the United States

  6. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    We’re #10!

    • ngoyne01 says:

      It’s been proven time after time that money spent by the government generates about three times the extra economic benefit of money saved by the taxpayer.

      • Could you please provide a source for that? I don’t recall ever seeing that data point before

      • cr says:


        Please Google ‘crowding-in effect of public investment on private investment’.

        This will help start your research. One can make the case that we have high debt because we have had very poor growth policies driving large capital misallocations. The US had higher growth rates when it was making larger public investments. Happy to discuss at length off-line.


      • I didnt ask you for a home work assignment, I asked you for a source — send a link or two

      • bear_in_mind says:

        Agreed on calling B.S. on that proposition.

        I’ve heard estimates of government multiplier effects with unemployment or the earned income tax credit, however, these are estimates for a very good reason — they’re hard as heck to measure.

        I think there’s a general, approximate, sorta-kinda agreement that monies provided by gov’t to people who have no motive to save and no alternative other than to spend it for essentials, DO have an beneficial carry-on effect on the economy. But the best estimates I’ve seen usually range from one dollar multiplying to $1.40 or $1.50 or $1.70, but that’s an order of magnitude difference from +/- $3.00.

        So “ngoyne01″ if you have some studies or reports that make that claim, sure would be interested in learning about ‘em. Certainly would bolster the argument to kill austerity and boost spending on our crumbling infrastructure.

  7. ConscienceofaConservative says:

    Mixed feelings about this. We should be building a true high speed rail between Boston & D.C. which has the ridership or critical in place to make such a venture successful if it can deliver travelers transit times competitive with commercial flights. A true high speed Boston DC link would also increase the productivity of workers in the region. We should not be building expensive infrastructure such as bullet trains in regions of the country where few people would ride and most likely would continue to drive. Common sense tells me we should do the former, but I’ve learned that for reasons of patronage and lack of good planning we tend to do the latter.

    • Chad says:

      Completely agree with expanding high or at least higher speed trains in the Boston-NYC-Philly-Balt-DC corridor. I live in DC and the current low speed train (not Acela) is ten times better than flying to NYC, let alone something faster.

    • BennyProfane says:

      I agree that Acela is kind of a joke compared to Euro and Asian high speed transport, but, for the life of me, I can’t imagine how it’s possible to do so many eminent domain land grabs to put a true high speed train in that corridor. Just imagine the uproar in Fairfield county, Ct. alone, where I work. That train line slices through some very very valuable real estate.

      Another note: I spend a lot of time in Baltimore, and they have spent a lot of money on a light rail system, that most of the white and middle class could care less about on their daily commute. They’d much rather drive.
      We need to tax gas heavily, to ween America off the automobile. Like that will ever happen.

  8. Paul says:

    I would much rather like to see these statistics in terms of spending / avg per-capita mile.

    • That data is available — do some research as to each country’s population, get an approximate miles traveled per capita, and crunch the numbers.

      Then report back to us …

  9. GreenTom says:

    To be fair, I don’t think it’s a meaningful comparison, since the US is (I think) so much more road oriented than the other countries. If nothing else, the investment in rolling stock for rail will show up here, while the investment in cars won’t.

    • Crocodile Chuck says:

      “Investment in cars” (cough)

      An ‘investment’ that loses 50% of its value when you drive it off the dealer’s lot? That you use 1-1.5 hours a day out of 24?

      Divide the sticker price of your ‘investment’ by the avg. no. of hours/day you actually use it – some ‘sticker shock’, eh?


      • That initial drop is closer to 30%, but its a point well taken.

      • wisconjon says:

        For a $20k, vehicle driven for 5 years (assuming no resale value), I get $11/hr. Much cheaper than a cab in NYC. More expensive than MTA, but the inside of my car smells better and sweats less…

  10. woolybear1 says:

    I spend a lot of time in Spain, the roads are fantastic as are the trains. I know, I know, it cost a ton of money but, eventually it will pay off, I hope.

  11. davebarnes says:

    Which is more important?
    20K new border guards or some new bridges?
    If we build new bridges, they [low life South Americans] will come.
    Border guards [] will help ensure our purity.
    Godwin or not? You decide.

  12. Stuart Douglas says:

    Seems about right by the condition of the roads I have been on today.

  13. Joe Friday says:

    We had a unique opportunity to issue a ton of negative-interest rate TIPS and use the money to rebuild our infrastructure which we WILL have to do eventually anyway, and create millions of American jobs.


  14. boiler1117 says:

    Our country is slightly bigger than those countries. So train doesn’t make much sense (think of flyover country now BR, not the NE).

    The roads are in fine shape. I’ve driven on a lot of them.

    Not that bad of call (not that this will be posted since it is a dissent to liberal views…which will never get posted on this blog)


    BR: You should read the crap that does not get published. Its a function of quality, not left/right views.

    Read this — The Left Right Paradigm is Over: Its You vs. Corporations — to understand the false political issues you raise, and read this TBP comments policy to understand what does & does not earn the right to be published.

    • Cato says:

      Yeah the roads are fine, the bridges on the other hand…

      • No, the roads are not fine — they simply are not collapsing in as visible a way as Bridges are.

        The roads are poorly maintained shiteways . . .

      • MondoGrapes says:

        Road quality will differ depending on what areas we are talking about. As a Rockaway resident I can tell you that the roads on the Belt Parkway, the BQE and the Van Wyck are most certainly NOT fine. They are in a disgraceful state of disrepair. The bridges are in the same state too.

  15. davedk says:

    Looking at that selection of country a few things comes to mind:

    1) Japan & Spain had excess public sector investment in infrastructure to placate vested industry interests and an important subset of voters (low skilled workers that from 90s onwards could not compete “in the global economy” otherwise known as China).

    2) It would be wrong to think of Switzerland as doing these investments to satisfy a need within its borders. North-South traffic is horribly congested in Europe. Connecting southern Germany with northern Italy is arguably the most important trade route in Europe and has been for millennia. The EU and the Swiss were on this from the 80s onwards and what you are looking at is 20+ years of complex tunneling taking place. Better to look at this as EU funding as train carriages will pay for the privilege.

    3) Germany went on a spending spree after unification and a lot of rail projects were and are mishandled by the state run subsidiary of Deutsche Bahn ProjektBau. I presume politicians wanted to control debts during the 2000s and diminish the bargaining position of labor in part by not adding publicly funded construction works.

    4) Most interesting to me is that there is practically no difference between the UK and Sweden. One might have the bias that the swedes would outspend the UK considerably but it seems to me that in both cases the capital regions received what was left of a smaller pie as compared to past decades. Rail & road spending should probably be closer to 1% permanently as ironically is the case for the OECD as a whole.

    • TrainStation says:

      Another thing that comes to mind.

      The study is of road and railway spending. Germany’s spending is less than the average OECD, but unlike the other OECD countries Germany transports much of its goods over its rivers system. The Rhine is one big highway. Germany spends a lot on dredging and locks construction.

      The Netherlands (down river) has the largest dredging companies in the world.

      • Like the Mississippi!

        Oh, wait . . .

      • TrainStation says:

        We have money set aside to restore the Mississppi but it doesn’t get used.

        The Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund collects money from taxes on imported goods to pay for the upkeep of the harbors and waterways the imported goods are tranported through. The fund has grown to $7 billion. It doesn’t get spent in order to have the federal deficit look better than it is.

        BTW, the Mississppi Delta has been destroyed over the years and never repaired- it has been carved up with channels and waterways no longer utilized. Saltwater has destroyed freshwater wetlands. Some of this HMTF should be spent on restoring the Delta.

      • NoKidding says:

        For all of the freight going from Iowa to Louisiana?
        Find a river flowing from LA to DC, then you’re talking.

    • rj chicago says:

      On point 2. Completely agree.
      I would like to add that what is interesting to me having driven the Autostrada in Italy from Rome to Florence a few years back is that the tolls are so extreme the only vehicles I saw on the A1 were Audis, Ferraris and the like in addition to mid size truck carriages that were paid for by the company the trucker worked for. The tolls were beyond the price point of the average joe. The hoi poloi (read the guy on the via della dolce) were relegated to the relics of a bygone age, narrow winding roads clogged with small Fiats, Smart Cars and the like. The contrast was amazing.
      I will grant that the quality of the A1 and other ‘bahn’ roads far exceed anything here in the States AND they are expensive and I judge to be exclusive.
      On same said trip having driven from Florence to Modena a couple of times on the pass road on the E35 (the equivalent to at US highway here) going up the ‘gut’ of Italy, the traffic was horrendous with diesel trucks belching black smoke and more cars than can be imagined clogging a very heavily traffiked route.

  16. Lyle says:

    Actually according to Maury Klein’s Union Pacific the Reconfiguration: more and more third parties provide the rolling stock except for locomotives for railroads. Typically the cars are owned by a bank and leased to someone. For example TrailerTrain owns a lot of the container cars. Or on unit coal trains the power company owns the cars. As shippers want more specialized cars, the railroads, are saying buy it or lease it yourself. This is actually a big change that reduces the capital employed in railroading. The book says that for example each car company wants the cars to carry its cars to be set up in just the way the want, not a uniform fashion. Interestingly in one industry this dates back 150 years John D. Rockefeller(Standard Oil) owned the tank cars used for oil shipments at the time.

    Of course another issue is the kind of soil a road is built on makes a difference in how rough the roads are, In Houston the roads are full of potholes because the soil expands and contracts with moisture for example.

  17. canfieldj33 says:

    if i remember my HS physics correctly, for every doubling of weight, a vehicle’s force (wear/tear) on the road increases by 9x—so a 40,000-lbs semi does way more damage than your car.

    but given gas taxes, toll structure and registration fees, the burden of road costs fall disproportionately more on ordinary passenger car drivers.

    the trucking lobby can argue that consumers see this $$$$ back by way of lower freight costs, but a subsidy is still a subsidy.

  18. spooz says:

    The US spends 3% of its budget on transportation and infrastructure while spending 20% on national security. Those other countries don’t have a bogus War On Terrorism to fight.

  19. BennyProfane says:

    Yeah, but, we have a hell of a collection of sports stadiums scattered about the country.

  20. TerryC says:

    The reason our roads suck is because we deliberately build them that way.

    Warranties and Guarantees

    The teams found warranties and guarantees to be common throughout the countries visited. The warranties and guarantees were found to range from one to five years for asphalt pavements and from four to nine years for concrete pavements. Guarantee and warranty requirements apparently are accepted by European contractors because of the existence of good-quality designs, as addressed later, that help ensure that constructed facilities meet performance requirements.

    Design Standards

    A very significant finding of the three investigations is the life-cycle philosophy that permeates the design of roads throughout Europe. This approach tends to lead to higher initial up-front construction costs but lower life-cycle costs than comparable facilities in the United States. For example, the EAST team found a strong emphasis on providing a sound subgrade and base instead of reliance on overdesign of the pavement structure to compensate for subgrade inadequacies. The CATQEST team reported that pavement designs are highly standardized throughout many countries and are used despite local conditions that may require removal and replacement of inadequate subgrades, extensive excavations, and other actions that make the use of standard designs relatively expensive.

    This philosophy is consistent with the relatively long design lives that are used in western Europe, reported by the teams to be between 30 and 40 years, as compared to the 20-year design horizons typical in the United States. Structural longevity generally is achieved not by the specification of thicker slabs, but rather by thicker sub base and base layers, superior drainage systems, and higher reinforcement content. In addition, Europeans tend to incorporate other forward-looking features into their projects, such as full-width emergency lanes for ease of traffic control during future rehabilitation work.

    Of course, the European road design philosophies lead to projects that have higher initial costs than those in the United States. The teams found a willingness throughout the countries visited to accept higher initial costs in order to avoid problems in later years.

    There you have it in a nutshell. We have been deliberately building short life highways for many decades in this country in order to save a little up front money, and we have been paying through the nose for our lousy highways.

    • rj chicago says:

      Terry C:
      Agree on your comment.
      IDOT can correct me if I am mistaken.
      Here in Chicago the Kennedy Xprsway was REBUILT some 15 years ago using a section / profile developed in Germany some years ago for I think it was the Autobahn. Don’t know the section profile in measurment and the road is in as good a shape as when buillt 15 years ago.
      Section is thus – from bare earth up -
      a) CA 6 crushed stone compacted
      b) Sand bed
      c) Hot mix Asphalt
      d) Reinforced concrete.
      This profile has allowed for horizontal and vertical movement both physical and thermal . What that translates to is a concrete running surface that ‘gives’ under sometimes extreme temperature shifts. Running surface with the exception of a few isolated spalls and concrete blow outs (pot holes) has remained durable and of very good running quality.
      Your comment notes that there are engineering profiles available that allow road lifecycle to increase – I want to add that all that is needed is dollars and more so the WILL to do it.

      • TerryC says:

        Exactly, rj. The article I quoted was from the Civil Engineering department of the University of Toronto. They sent three independent teams of engineers to Europe in the nineties to investigate their road building technology. Their roads last longer (and in similar, cold to hot climate extremes as the US) because they build better sub pavement as well as pavement. This may sound a little conspiratorial, but in my 60 years in this country, I have noticed that most medium sized cities have one (and ONLY one) truly large road building contractor. These people seem to always get every contract on roads in the area (ever notice in construction zones in a certain city/area that it’s always the same contractor, job after job, decade after decade?

        It doesn’t matter if the contract is local or state DOT, the local “big guys” always get the job. And, sure enough, they are back out there in 5 to 7 years redoing the exact same stretch of road. Pork barrel? One hand scratching the politicians back, in a big circle, decade after decade? It has sure looks like that to me. Americans love planned obsolescence. I keeps the money flowing.

  21. josap says:

    Roads, trains, bus system in Italy are great.
    Gas is very high, tolls cost a fortune.

    • Joe Friday says:

      But hardly anyone pays their income tax.

      That’s why contrasting taxation one country to another is faulty, particularly gasoline taxes.

  22. gman says:

    We are certainly number one in infrastructure destroyed by warfare over that decade by a wide margin!

  23. digistar says:

    We traveled from Amsterdam, to Brussels, to Paris, to Milan, to Florence, to Rome by the wonderful European train system. On the flat in Italy we got up to 300 km/hour at times – but smooth and quiet, almost like sitting in your living room. And, when you get to a city, they have good bus and subway service. And nice people.

    A fellow American tourist said to me “These people have it all figured out. Why can’t we do this?”

    Well, you can bet there are powerful special interest groups here that make sure we stay number 10 because it benefits their pocketbooks.

    • Joe Friday says:

      A fellow American tourist said to me ‘These people have it all figured out. Why can’t we do this?’

      We did in the first two-thirds of the 20th Century when the top federal income tax bracket was 87% and even 91%, but then ever since the early 1980s we’ve dramatically shifted so much of our revenue and resources to the Rich & Corporate, we simply cannot afford the roads, bridges, trains, airports, and water & sewer systems anymore.

      Talk about ‘crowding out’.

  24. gman says:

    We are number one at destroying infrastructure with our military over that decade by a wide margin,

  25. b_thunder says:

    I’d happily support a massive infrastructure build out campaign in the USA except for the examples like these:

    1 Recently my co-worker hired a company to replace the roof and it took a crew 1 full day. his neighbor saw the quality work and hired the same company for his house. it took the 2nd crew 2.5 days to replace a very similar roof on a similar house. When he asked the company’s manager why it took almost 3 days vs 1 day for his neighbor, the manager said that he must have gotten a crew of US workers, and the neighbor – a crew of mexicans. Indeed, my co-worker recalls that “his” mexicans, once they got on the roof, didn’t take a single break, didn’t talk to each other until they got back down at the end of the day. They kept nailing that roof down as if they had robotic, not human hands!

    2. I recently drove almost 1700 miles round trip. Probably 500 miles were through some sort of construction zone. I haven’t seen a single worker! And the parts of the road that they “fixed” were jsut as rough and uneven as the pavement they were about to tear down.

    3. The steel for the Verrazano bridge rebuild is coming from China

    I’d gladly support spending more on infrastructure if I had some assurances that 1) the work will be quality work, and 2) it would not turn into another giant scam to enrich builders and contractors at the taxpayer expense! I’m afraid that whatever infrastructure projects we do will end up like Air Force’s F-35 program: takes 2X longer to build, cost 3X initial estimate, and will fall apart from shoddy just like F-35 that can’t fly during thunderstorms b/c Lockheed removed some pieces of the fuel tank and as a result the tank can explode if hit by lightning.

    Final point: recently i’ve seen (or read?) about companies that RENT tires to poor people who cannot afford to buy new tires, even though they fully understand that they will end up paying 200 to 400% more than if they’d bought new tires. The problem is that they do have neither $300 nor credit to buy a set of tires now. Too many people in this country simply cannot afford a new tax. Whoever wants to upgrade the infrastructure must indicate who exactly will pay for it: top 50%, top 5%, top 1%, top 0.01%.

    • Chad says:

      The waste is an issue, but the other option is to just let it all fall apart. I will take my chance with waste.

      “…RENT tires to poor people who cannot afford to buy new tires, even though they fully understand that they will end up paying 200 to 400% more than if they’d bought new tires.”

      I highly doubt they fully understand. I would also suggest that most of these people don’t even need a car. Hell, I don’t even need a car. I could take public transportation for work and just rent a car when I needed one. It would be way cheaper than buying a car like I do now.

  26. bizprof says:

    This seems a lazily prepared chart…it does not include public and private capital expenditures for air transport? That is how a great deal more inter-city passenger transport in the (much larger) US is conducted relative to Germany, Japan, and the other countries on the chart.

    • Based on your comment, I have to presume you have not been to any airports in Germany or Japan recently and compared them to Miami International, LaGuradia and/or JFK in NY, and the dreaded Newark, have you.

  27. Oral Hazard says:

    Here’s an interesting Wikipedia page: “List of bridge failures” (worldwide):

    Most recent German bridge collapse due to construction error: 1988. Most recent overall was in 1998, due to a train derailment disaster.

    Lots of U.S. bridge collapses, along with India, China, Australia. Draw your own conclusions.

  28. doug says:

    The least cost way to get US citizens to use public transportation is: ‘poorly maintained shiteways’ . Let them fall into complete disrepair. The train becomes more viable…

  29. ConscienceofaConservative says:

    In this country we have this odd notion that somehow it’s acceptable to give a tax break to encourage fuel efficient driving habits, but not ok, to tax gasoline to do the same thing.

  30. WFTA says:

    Maybe they’ll be more inclined to work with Hillary.

  31. wally says:

    One difference between the US and other countries on that chart is that private US citizens have made some really dumb decisions about how much infrastructure they require in their lives. They choose to live far from work locales, to live in low-density suburbs, to distribute retail centers to areas with no efficient forms of public access other than individual cars.
    As a result, it takes far more money to maintain that infrastructure – per person – as well as to provide utilities such as water, electricity, police and fire protections, school bus service…

    • willid3 says:

      well some of that being a long way from work was because being near to work is expensive, that what drove a lot of the suburbs into being. it was cheaper to live there than in the city.

  32. Willy2 says:

    A LOT OF people overlook the fact that every mile of newly build road/railway costs tax payer money to build. But when that road/railway is finished/built then that mile of road/railway, somewhere in the future, needs maintenance, which costs A LOT OF tax payer money as well. In other words, with every extra/new mile of road/railway (future) maintenance costs WILL increase.

    In other words, tax payers have to make up their mind. What do they want ? More roads & accept that taxation WILL increase and remains high in the future ? If tax payers want taxes to remain flat or going lower then those same tax payers/citizens should demand a stop to the construction of more roads/railways. And even demand that the total amount of milage of roads/railways should be reduced.

  33. DeDude says:

    One problem is that we seem to have this illusion that government can and should stay away from “planning” things such as transportation. As in so many other sectors we screw ourselves by living with the brainless mantra of just leaving things to the “invisible hand”.

    Fast speed trains clearly beat any alternative in the 150-400 mile range between large cities, and it has many societal benefits including less energy use and less pollution. However, some of those benefits are for the greater society and not counted in money from one hand into another pocket. So society must decide to step in and invest in it and actively “chose winners”. Alternatively we could stop “subsidizing losers” and increase taxes on gas to fully account for cost of vehicles in road construction, repair and pollution. If this was done for big trucks all containers would move onto rail since it would be too expensive to run them on roads.

    Unfortunately the failure to increase gas taxes to fully cover the expenses of our road system is a little like the bread price subsidies in other countries. If we stopped these subsidies and allowed gas taxes to cover all expenses, a lot of “barely making it” people would be rioting.

    • bear_in_mind says:

      Actually, you’re correct on the point about ‘medium-hop’ distances, but one shouldn’t forget the short-hop (i.e. 5 to 50 mile) distances as well. The shame is that so many American cities / regions uprooted perfectly efficient light-rail systems with the onset of automobiles and accelerated through the build-out of the interstate highway system, as if ‘merica would remain a rural country forever more. Talk about insular thinking.

      So, now we face having to ‘rebuild’ our transportation infrastructure with technology that, for the most part, is 80 to 140 years old. Yes, there’s thankfully been improvements and there are lots of areas for tweaks and efficiencies = all good. And basic transportation should be a populist endeavor. Every citizen should have equal access to an efficient system that reaches our employment and commerce centers, transportation hubs, arts and entertainment, etc.

      Blindly cutting expenses everywhere, all the time, is akin to hitting yourself in the forehead with a brick every day because someone told you that was the best way to prosperity. Just ’cause someone said it doesn’t make it so.

      But the core issue here is this: to MOVE FORWARD as a country, we MUST INVEST for the future.

      Please folks… we CAN turn America around!

  34. Sun Tzu says:

    But, but we need all the money for squadrons of f35′s and 15 billion dollar ford class aircraft carriers.

    Kidding aside, I would take mass transit on my work commute in a heartbeat if it was available in my area.

  35. stevenhansen says:

    this chart is way too simple.
    - the cost per mile for building and maintaining rail is not built in.
    - it ignores differences between passenger transport and freight
    - it ignores population densities or effective options other than rail
    - it ignores ton miles of freight moved per capita
    - percent utilization of existing rail line
    - state of maintenance of existing rail line

    the graphic implies the USA is the worst of the lot. they may not be the best but you could interpret this graphic that the USA has the lowest costs. it is impossible for me to find enough data on the internet to provide a good response to this graphic.

    rail infrastructure in the USA has been continuously upgraded and is in much better shape than other transport infrastructures. this is not to say the USA could be doing more. but rail is the USA is heavily biased towards swiftly moving of freight over long distances.

    • bear_in_mind says:

      @stevenhansen: Me thinks thine doth protest too much.

      The graphic looks pretty darned inline with many, many other measures of the increasingly decrepit American infrastructure.

      At some point, the Boomers have got to get off our asses and stop living off the now-aging investments the WWI generation “paid forward” — which for the last 40-50-60 years have been a massive boon to the economic wellness of our country.

      Your comment, “Rail infrastructure in the USA has been continuously upgraded and is in much better shape than other transport infrastructures” lacks any data or other objective reference for your contention. Would it be borne out of new subway systems coming on-line? Or declining train derailment figures? Replacement of aging track beds and rails? Maybe a newfangled switching system that speeds cross-country trips and slashes switch errors? Or, a high-speed rail system such as most developed countries in Europe and Asia have deployed over the last 40 years?

      I do concur that rail transport has begun supplanting long-haul trucking to move large quantities of freight (or commodities such as ore, coal, natural gas, oil, etc.) due to inherent mass efficiencies. But in the absence of some convincing evidence otherwise, I think that the vast majority of aggregate U.S. passenger transportation movement is shouldered by automobiles, buses, light-rail, aircraft, trains, ferries, etc., NONE of which are seeing any appreciable long-term investment to rebuild or expand their utility.

  36. Hedgy says:

    I am struck as I scroll through the posts that everyone seems to equate amount of money spent with amount of work accomplished and or the quality of the road system. This thinking creates problems. Just because Country A spends more on infrastructure than Country B does not mean it has better roads or trains than Country B. Throwing money at the problem does not equal solving the problem. The graph that started this chain of comments is meaning less.