October 3, 2022
New book offers route to reforms instead of highway robbery
Oakland, CA America is one big pothole, declared a former US Secretary of Transportation. Its easy to recognize the failures of infrastructure when driving American roadways, bridges, and tunnels or by seeing the decaying levees threatening the safety of citizens.
In the new book Highway Heist: Americas Crumbling Infrastructure and the Way Forward, Independent Institute Research Fellow James T. Bennett explains how Americas infrastructure has gone from bold ideas of the Founders, to superhighways, to a crumbling mess. Bennett then illustrates entrepreneurial solutions and reforms to steer America forward.
Crafting Americas roads took persuasion, planningand more taxes than any politician could have dreamed of. And far too often their realization, thanks, in Bennetts view, to flawed interpretations of the power of eminent domain, required destruction, sometimes on a massive scale, of long-established neighborhoods and important cityscapes.
Rising federal and state gasoline taxes, intended to help pay for road maintenance, are becoming increasingly discriminatory. According to the author, a return to federalismand turning against overweening and centralizing governmentwhere states fund and maintain roads would be more reasonable.
States could resume their constitutionally appropriate role in transportation policy. Pickup truck drivers in Wyoming would no longer be subsidizing well-tailored Manhattan straphangers, says Bennett.
Solutions for traffic congestion include public-private partnerships as well as using the latest and safest technology for collecting tolls on roads. Only 2 percent of US highways are currently tolled. If gas taxes could be slashed or eliminated, toll roads could make up for the difference and only charge those who actually use the roads. Its an idea that is gaining in popularity and already in use in some parts of the country, according to Highway Heist.
It has been two centuries since the foundational debates over the proper methods of designating, financing, and administering the construction of (or refusal to construct) roads, bridges, and canals took place in America. Today, those same questions and themes prove just as relevant and are being heard once more.
Its about time private alternatives be taken more seriously, says Bennett. Entrepreneurs can be better than bureaucracies at managing funds and building infrastructure. In the recent budget-busting $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, barely 20 percent of the funds newly authorized will go towards roads, highways, and bridgesonce the mainstay of Americas infrastructure complex.
Author Biography: James T. Bennett is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. He is Eminent Scholar, the William P. Snavely Chair of Political Economy and Public Policy in the Department of Economics, and Director of the John M. Olin Institute for Employment Practice and Policy at George Mason University.
For more information, contact Robert Ade, [email protected], or (510) 635-3690.
100 Swan Way, Oakland, CA 94621-1428
The Independent Institute is a non-profit, public policy, research, and educational organization that promotes the power of independent thinking to boldly advance peaceful, prosperous, and free societies grounded in a commitment to human worth and dignity.
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