The Infrastructure Bill Has Passed. What Now?

photo 1518835693946 9578ff2c4a4f

So, the behemoth of an infrastructure bill finally passed over the weekend. And there was much rejoicing…

Well, not from us. At Strong Towns, we’ve been skeptical of the current bill and the national obsession with it. Charles Marohn, president of Strong Towns wrote a five-part series on the problems with the bill and why we should stop fixating on it. (Read the whole series here.)

What’s Wrong with the Infrastructure Bill?

We hold a great deal of skepticism around infrastructure funding generally because it so often goes to projects that are unnecessary, harmful, and have no plan in place to pay for their long-term maintenance. In fact, federal infrastructure money like the billions packed into the latest bill typically enables some of the worst projects that would never happen without that funding, because they simply don’t make sense. Take highway bypasses—like this one in Minnesota that zips travelers far outside of town, so they never have to visit a local business or see an actual community. Or endless high speed rail lines in the middle of nowhere, like this ill-fated ongoing project in California. Or inner-city highways that rip through neighborhoods and cost billions, like this travesty in Louisiana. The list goes on and on.

Federal infrastructure funding makes our cities poorer, not better off, and here’s why (excerpted from an article by Charles Marohn):

  1. Federal infrastructure spending might prop up the national economy today, but cities take on the long-term liabilities.

  2. Federal infrastructure spending goes primarily to the least financially productive parts of the American development pattern.

  3. Federal infrastructure spending prioritizes new construction. What cities need most is maintenance.

  4. Federal infrastructure spending induces local governments to take on unproductive debt.

  5. Federal infrastructure spending blinds local governments to better projects they could do themselves right now.

Read more about these problems with federal infrastructure dollars here.

So, we at Strong Towns are deeply skeptical of this infrastructure bill. And you probably are, too. First, because the conversation about what’s actually in it (and what actually is infrastructure) has gotten incredibly convoluted. Not to mention, it might be years before the programs within the bill are rolled out and the money made available—by which time we may have a new administration that shakes everything up all over again. 

You might also be skeptical because you’re wondering, “How does this impact me and my community? Is it going to mean investments in the things my neighborhood needs, like patching potholes, building sidewalks and making streets safer? Or is it going to mean investments in the things that ultimately harm my neighborhood: like wide and dangerous roads, boondoggle projects to pad the pockets of big construction companies, and infrastructure that will cost my city money that we don’t have in the long run, as it deteriorates and needs fixing?”

The answer is: probably some of each, but a lot more of the latter.

You May Also Like