In yesterday’s column, David Brooks argued we should stimulate the economy not through tax credits or automaker bailots, but by investing in infrastructure. We should repair our failing bridges and explore new technology.
Unfortunately, Brooks runs off the road when his prescription turns to building large numbers of new highways. We should indeed fix our crumbling existing infrastructure. But new transportation investment should focus on transit corridors that can spur significant new walkable, mixed-use development instead of more exurban sprawl. Sadly, Brooks still thinks about transportation in a 1950s framework.
Fortunately, a lot of Americans are ready for 21st Century solutions. Today’s Times letters page features three letters responding to Brooks which recommend investing in transit rather than roads. Transportation For America‘s David Goldberg writes,
Building new highways was the project for an earlier era, the 1950s, when gas was cheap and President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the Interstate System. Today we urgently need to build the infrastructure for a clean-energy economy and reduced dependency on oil.
Soaring gas prices made our vulnerability clear: Americans flocked to public transportation or took to their bicycles only to find the transit systems underfinanced and the roads dangerous and inhospitable. Half of our urban-dwelling citizens found they had no transit at all.
If we’re going to go into debt to build for the future, we must do so to complete our transportation network with high-speed rail, modern public transit, streets that support safe biking and walking, and, yes, well-maintained highways.
Roads are no longer always the default and only solution to every problem. I’m here in Charleston, South Carolina, where the County Council just rejected a new road. Local officials tout the city’s recently-created bus system and want to bring intercity rail back to downtown (the spur downtown off the main line was shut down years ago but still exists). Our political system is still biased toward road construction and many politicians and voters continue to believe in highways and more highways, but we’re ready to have a real national debate.