Category Archives: portal bridge

Sold Out Futures by State:  Debt and Infrastructure for FY 1972 to FY 2019

The federal government just passed a $ 1 trillion “infrastructure bill” that, for a while, will increase the amount of federal funding for infrastructure.  Most of the actual spending, however, will be continue to be done by state and local governments, just as has been the case in the past.  The modest increase in spending, adjusted for inflation, is intended to address a backlog of needed projects.  But federal funding is only one source of money for state and local infrastructure.  State and local taxes are another, and bonds, usually paid off over 30 years, are a third. 

The extent of infrastructure varies from place to place.  In rural areas the only public infrastructure might be a county or town road, supplemented by power supplied by a rural electrification co-op, and telephone and postal service cross-subsidized by those in cities.  Instead of paying for public water, sewer, and solid waste collection, people provide these for themselves.  In cities, on the other hand, there may be mass transit, public sidewalks, airports, seaports, public water, sewer, solid waste collection, and in some places public electric utilities.  So do low-density rural states spend less on, and receive less in federal funds for, infrastructure?  Do states with low past infrastructure spending also have low debts?  How are the estimated $1.4 trillion infrastructure spending shortage and the $3.2 trillion in state and local government debt distributed around the country?  Read on and find out.

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The MTA (and New York State and the New Federal Infrastructure Plan): Five-Plus Decades of Investing in the Suburbs and Disinvesting in the City

The era of large-scale federal infrastructure investment, from the 1950s through the 1970s, coincided with the era of suburban development and urban decline.  I don’t think that was a coincidence.  Cities had paid for their own infrastructure with local money, were still paying bonds for that infrastructure, and it was aging. The federal government then paid for brand new, up to date infrastructure for suburbs, and for rural areas that became suburbs, with taxes collected in part in cities, even as urban infrastructure declined.  Federal investment was limited to new infrastructure only at the time.  Most older central cities never recovered, and those that did only began to do so in the early 1980s, after the Reagan Administration cut federal investment and added local flexibility to how it was used.  More of it was then used to fix existing infrastructure, not just subsidize new suburban and exurban development.

Now it is 50 to 70 years later and the infrastructure of the suburbs is aging.  And because of lower densities, and thus more liner feet of road, water pipe, and sewer pipe per taxpayer, it will be more costly to replace with local taxes.  Some in the Strong Towns movement believe the suburbs are facing the sort of infrastructure decline the cities faced 50 years ago as a result. 

https://granolashotgun.wordpress.com/2016/01/12/teachers-pipes-and-pavement/

An issue that will be most acute in private communities responsible for their own local infrastructure, where people live so they can control who walks on their streets and not share a tax base with pre-1960 neighborhoods. Who will pay up when private sewage treatment plants fail and have to be replaced?  Did you hear about what happened at that collapsed Florida condo, where residents had argued for years about paying for fixes before disaster struck?

The older generations who live in these suburbs are used to getting things, but not fully paying for them.  The “I’ve got mine jack,” tax cut generations.  And here we have another federal infrastructure bill, enacted by suburban and Sunbelt Baby Boomers according to their preferred lifestyle, a lifestyle that poorer Millennials cannot afford and the global environment cannot sustain, to be paid for by those Millennials in the future, because most of it going to funded by soaring federal debts. With higher levels of governments (federal and state) making the choices as to how even the future money of city residents will be spent, how will New York and other older cities fare this time?

As an analogy this post will compare the suburban and city projects that the MTA promised in the Program for Action, released in early 1968 when it as formed, with the system expansions and maintenance of existing infrastructure that actually took place in the five-plus decades since.  And go from there.

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The Gateway Tunnel and New Bus Terminal: More Money than New Jersey and the Port Authority Can Afford, and More Time Than They Have

We are told that we have a crisis. The two Pennsylvania Railroad tunnels under the Hudson River are more than 100 years old, are deteriorating, were damaged by Superstorm Sandy, and could need to be shut down for repair at any time. Cutting off the approximately 46,000 New Jersey Transit and Amtrak riders who use the tunnels to get to Manhattan between 7 am and 10 am on a typical weekday. The solution: a Gateway Tunnel plan that would take 20 years and $20 billion. We are told that we have a crisis – the Port Authority Bus Terminal is aging, deteriorating, unable to cope with rising traffic, and liable to become unusable due to the deterioration of its concrete decking. The solution: the construction of an interim terminal, and then a new terminal, for more than $10 billion, taking at least 10 years and perhaps 15.

This is what happens when you plan for every interest group to be paid off, years of hearings where every NIMBY activist has their say, years of planning in which every conflict is settled by the addition of more money, and a construction process in which metro New York’s rapacious consultants, contractors and construction unions are allowed to turn essential projects into perpetual gravy trains. That is what happened at the World Trade Center site, with its massively expensive and much delayed PATH station, at the Fulton Street Transit Center site, and at East Side Access. Extra years, extra billions, extra campaign contributions for incumbent politicians, but no extra benefits for the serfs who will have to pay the interest on the associated debts for the rest of their lives, long after the beneficiaries depart for Florida or the grave. If this were a real emergency the politicians would find a way to make all these vetoes, sinecures, and extravagances go away. What would they do then? Here is a summary of what people who follow these issues are saying.

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