America's Improving Infrastructure

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
April 9 2013 9:32 AM

U.S. Infrastructure Is Actually Getting Better

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A sign indicating the highest speed limit in the country on Interstate 10 outside of the West Texas town of El Paso

Photo by Rick Scibelli/Getty Images

Evan Soltas at Bloomberg View tries to debunk the notion that America isn't spending enough on its basic infrastructure. The argument is a bit unconvincing and amounts to showing that U.S. infrastructure spending is about average—"U.S. public investment has tracked the OECD average since at least 1970." It strikes me as extremely plausible that the average OECD country underspends on public investment.

But where he is persuasive is that contrary to the impression you often get from the media, the trend in infrastructure quality is in the right direction. The share of vehicle-miles traveled on "good" or better highways has risen, the share of "poor" roads has fallen, the share of "deficient" bridges has fallen, the share of "congested" interstates has fallen. As a lifelong resident of the Northeast Corridor I don't like to play the east coast elite card, but having just returned from Texas I do wonder if there isn't something of an NYC/D.C. bubble playing a role here. In recentish trips to Texas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee the basic quality of the sunbelt roadways has struck me as markedly higher than what you see in the Northeast Corridor. We're coping here in the northeast with an incredible level of population density and a lot of thorny legacy issues that plausibly leave us lagging behind the national average and give media and political figures an excessively pessimistic sense of the overall national situation.

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