Now I have, on several occasions, argued that to a first approximation, we basically need zero new lane-miles in this country. This belief is not equivalent with the belief that we should spend zero dollars on roads. Given the state of most of our road infrastructure, we could easily spend tens of billions on them — productively — without meaningfully adding to the capacity of the road network. The goal, of course, would be to prevent catastrophic or costly failures of roadbeds, bridges, and tunnels, while simultaneously putting good resources to work.
I suspect that much of Obama’s roads and bridges money will be spent in just this fashion. I also suspect that some of the money will go toward road projects already underway, but stalled thanks to bad economic conditions (just as much of the transit stimulus would go to projects stalled by the downturn). And I think transit supporters out there should recognize that while it’s right to oppose these projects, it’s unreasonable, , and politically naive, to expect them to be excluded from the stimulus plan.
What I have yet to see is any evidence that Obama intends to embark on a major program of new road construction. And until we see definitive evidence of something like that, transit supporters really ought to calm down.
Meanwhile, let me draw your attention to the Center for American progress’ $350 billion stimulus proposal. It includes $18 billion in spending on roads and bridges, and a total of $19 billion for transit. The former is about 50% of average annual spending on highways, while the latter is about 200% of average annual spending on transit (and the money allocated for New Starts is about 300% the annual average for that line item). I think it’s safe to say that these kinds of numbers are probably getting a good look from (soon-to-be) administration officials.