The Blog

Government is the Problem

8:28 AM, Dec 29, 2008 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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... At least when building new roads, bridges, and runways is the issue. Brookings scholar Clifford Winston:

One of the biggest killers of all is that states insist on allocating federal transportation funds through a politically devised formula. The result? Smooth, well-paved rural highways and worn-out urban roadways that are paved with a layer of asphalt too thin to withstand heavy use and are therefore in need of excessive, costly maintenance.

But don't blame the states for all the inefficient use of highway dollars. Federal regulations have also inflated the cost of providing roads, trains and so much more for a public on the move.

It takes the nation's busiest airports decades and billions of dollars to build new runways, for example, because of onerous regulations imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. Davis-Bacon mandates, which effectively require that "prevailing" union wages (often much higher than the actually prevailing market wage) be paid to workers on any construction project receiving federal funds, also drive up the costs of roads and other federal transport projects. The Federal Transit Act also makes it extremely expensive to lay off transit employees.

Will reforming Davis-Bacon solve America's infrastructure problems? Not entirely! It's also incredibly unlikely that such a reform will happen anytime soon, given the current power configuration in Washington. Outside Washington, however, there is a large group of people -- commuters -- who want to see more roads and runways built. And they are likely to rally behind a political figure who confronts those interests, like greens and NIMBY activists, that stand in the way of pavement.