President Obama wants to spend something like a half trillion incremental dollars on "infrastructure". I have found that these initiatives to sell infrastructure tend to be great bait and switch programs. Infrastructure is generally the one type of government spending that polls well across all parties and demographics. So it is used by government officials to pass big spending increases, but in fact what really happens is that the government takes a wish-list of stuff that most of the public would not be OK with increasing spending on, then they put a few infrastructure projects on top like a cherry to sell the thing. They call it an "infrastructure" program when in fact it is no such thing.
Obama would never do that, right? Hope and change? In fact, he already has. The first time around he sold the stimulus bill as mainly an infrastructure spending bill -- remember all that talk of shovel-ready projects? Only a trivial percentage of that bill was infrastructure. At most 6% was infrastructure, and in practice a lot less since Obama admitted later there were no shovel-ready projects. (also here). The rest of it was mainly stuff like salary support for state government officials. Do you think he would have as easily sold the "wage support for state government officials" bill in the depth of a recession? No way, so he called it, falsely, an infrastructure bill.
The other bait and switch that occurs is within the infrastructure category. We have seen this at the state level in AZ several times. Politicians love light rail, for some reason I do not understand, perhaps because it increases their personal power in a way that individual driving does not. Anyway, they always want money for light rail projects, but bills to fund light rail almost always fail. So they tack on a few highway projects, that people really want, call it a highway bill and pass it that way. But it turns out most of the money is for non-highway stuff. That is the other bait and switch that occurs.
Expect to see both of these with the new infrastructure proposal.
By the way, Randal O'Toole has a nice summary of the drawbacks of light rail and trolley spending
For the past two decades or so, however, much of our transportation spending has focused on infrastructure that is slower, more expensive, less convenient, and often more dangerous than before. Too many cities have given up on trying to relieve congestion. Instead, they have allowed it to grow while they spend transportation dollars (nearly all paid by auto users) on other forms of travel such as rail transit. Such transportation is:
- Slower: Where highway speeds even in congested cities average 35 miles per hour or more, the rail transit lines built with federal dollars mostly average 15 to 20 mph.
- More expensive: In 2013, Americans auto users spent less than 45 cents per vehicle mile (which means, at average occupanies of 1.67 people per car, about 26 cents per passenger mile), and subsidies to roads average under a penny per passenger mile. By comparison, transit fares are also about 26 cents per passenger mile, but subsidies are 75 cents per passenger mile.
- Less convenient: Autos can go door to door, while transit requires people to walk or use other forms of travel, often at both ends of the transit trip.
- Less safe: For every billion passenger miles carried, urban auto accidents kill about 5 people, while light rail kills about 12 people and commuter trains kill 9. Only subways and elevateds are marginally safer than auto travel, at 4.5, but we haven’t built many of those lately.