New Highways Will Help Rebuild Old Economy

Yesterday, Charles "Shorty" Whittington, the former head of the American Trucking Association, told President Obama at the National Jobs Summit that building more highways is the "quickest, most efficient way to create jobs and restore the economy."

Last winter, there was a heated debate (at least according to Beltway rumors) between Lawrence Summers and Congressman James Oberstar of Minnesota over which transport projects were indeed "shovel ready." In the end, public transport projects were cut, then slightly restored, while highway spending was left untouched.

Mr. Whittington should therefore be happy that the stimulus bill included $29 billion to fund highway construction projects across the country while leaving just $8.4 billion for public transit, $8 billion in grants for high speed rail and $1.3 billion for Amtrak.
It could be true that in the short-term, new highway construction may quickly help the economy. And obviously, the trucking industry is currently important to the American way of life. According to the ATA's figures, trucking moves 70 percent of all freight tonnage in the US and indirectly or directly employs nine million people.

However, rebuilding* our highway infrastructure is just rebuilding our old, unsustainable economy. When gas was cheap, subsidizing suburbia seemed to make sense. But these days, it's unlikely that fossil fuels will ever be as inexpensive as they were in the 20th century. And there's the growing awareness that the highway lifestyle is contributing to climate change. If the new economy is going to be greener, than we should be funding public transportation projects and railroad infrastructure while phasing out highway sprawl. Plus, there are already plenty of highway construction projects in the pipeline to keep everyone in the industry busy for years. No more roads to nowhere!

*Has anyone else been stuck in traffic this last year on roads that were once perfectly fine but were needlessly rebuilt with stimulus dollars anyways?