The Agony Of American Infrastructure Deployment

A blog about business and economics.
May 8 2012 6:50 AM

The Agony Of American Infrastructure Deployment

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Westside subway expansions on the Purple and Blue lines.

LA Metro

The steady transformation of Los Angeles into a much more transit-oriented city has been an interesting story over the past ten years and in many ways I expect it to accelerate over the next ten years. But like so much related to American infrastructure, it's at times an agonizingly painful saga. Josh Stevens has an account of one small piece of this, the City of Beverly Hills' objection to building a Purple Line subway route under Beverly Hills High School on the basis of a bunch of safety concerns that nobody outside Beverly Hills seems to deem plausible.

Something to note about this stuff is that the sheer accumulation of different veto points and delays ends up making infrastructure deployment not only slower, but more expensive since it's much more efficient to work at a steadier pace. And because U.S. infrastructure projects are unduly expensive by international standards we get fewer projects for our dollar. But not only that, the cost overruns leave a sour taste in everyone's mouth so we invest an unusually small amount of money in our expensive and inefficient projects. Since America already has a big stock of fairly durable infrastructure, this has been a tenable situation for most of the past few decades. But as the population grows and the legacy infrastructure continues to deteriorate, it becomes less and less the case.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.