Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Problems of Transport Investment Summarized in One Sentence

This NY Times article about "instant bridges"  has a quote from a transportation official that neatly summarizes many of the problems with out current transport planning and investment systems:
“The highway department didn’t use to see the drivers as customers,” said Frank DePaola, administrator of the highway division for the department. “For a while there, the highway department was so focused on construction and road projects, it’s almost as if the contractors became their customers.”
This is a bridge replacement on a road, so referring to drivers is appropriate.  The idea that the clients being served are the contractors is problematic. The taxpayers, be they drivers, riders, cyclists, walkers,  or some combination of them all, are the ones who should be the priority. Considering that travel time savings are a major factor used to justify expensive projects it is a wonder that delay caused by really long construction periods is not a larger concern. This quote illustrates many of the issues raised though public choice theory.

Certainly there are some efforts underway to speed up construction times, such as Carmageddon last year. There are ways that the public can foster faster construction. One way is to charge rents for road space to the companies doing the construction. If a company has to take some capacity out of service for whatever reason, then they have to pay the value of the delay caused drivers. This will reduce construction times as the less time a road is out of service the lower the costs to the construction companies. If infrastructure were privatized rents for time out of service would be standard operating procedure. For example, Chicago Parking Meters, the company that owns the rights to Chicago's parking meters through 2084, must be paid by the city if any of the parking meters are taken out of service for any amount of time. (I'm not advocating privatization, just highlighting an example where this approach has been implemented.)

Considering how long infrastructure construction and maintenance takes, any policies that help speed up the process should be considered.
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