Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Stimulus, Rail, and the Fallacy of "Shovel Ready"

Pete McCommons makes the obvious link in his column today between the stimulus plan and commuter rail. Rhetoric aside, I actually agree with about 90% of Pete's column today -- I just wish a whole lot more of the stimulus bill was going towards true infrastructure projects -- the rails, sidewalks, parks, roads, etc. that he describes -- rather than social programs and other things that simply further a social agenda.

The true handicap of the stimulus bill in terms of infrastructure is that it only goes for "shovel ready" projects, which are limited in scope and impact. Why is this the case? First of all, you don't get something "shovel ready" unless there is a good chance it is going to happen quickly. It takes too much time and energy. So, while E.H. Culpepper and others have done enormous leg work the Brain Train rail project from Athens to Atlanta, it is by no means "shovel ready." Nor would a 316 upgrade be "shovel ready." However, give us a year and the promise of significant federal money, and I bet this region could have both projects ready.

The sad fact is, with today's regulatory environment, getting something "shovel ready" can take years. Should the burdens of our own state and federal environmental requirements preclude local communities from making the best use of federal infrastructure dollars?


Tony said...

I agree that the stimulus package should look more long term beyond "shovel ready," but the (political) reality is two fold: 1) the concept of a stimulus in Washington terms is inherently short-term horizon, and 2) inclusion of funding beyond that horizon would be blasted in the same manner as the Robert Rector column that you cite (i.e., it would be hailed as an extension of "wasteful" federal programs).

And speaking of Mr. Rector, sorry Brian......I personally can't put any stock into any analysis from The Heritage Foundation. Too many ideologues that are too far to the right.

Brian said...

We'll have to agree to disagree on Mr. Rector -- while the Heritage Foundation has its share of ideologues, I try to read pieces for the facts and points they make, and I think he raised an issue that should be discussed rather than dismissed, regardless of the messenger. Dismantling the Clinton era Welfare to Work programs will not be a positive for our country long term.