Urbanists and transit fans can be histrionic. It’s true. And that’s coming through loud and clear from the urbanist blogosphere, which is currently very, very upset that Obama hasn’t led off every speech on stimulus with a rousing call to abandon our automobiles and connect every town with over 500 people to a high-speed maglev rail network.
Let me just say a few quick things about all of this.
First, during the campaign I learned that if one just relaxed and had confidence that there was a strategy in place, one was usually vindicated. Until Obama begins making repeated tactical missteps with actual policy consequences, I don’t intend to change my attitude on that score.
Second, an economic crisis is an opportunity, but it’s also a dangerous crisis. The Obama administration is going to be very serious about putting a great deal of resources into action very quickly. Given the shape of our current transportation infrastructure, a majority of ready-to-go projects are road-oriented. Happily, a majority of them also involve basic maintenance, and are therefore worthwhile in their own right. But this is not something we should be fighting. They’re thinking, what can we usefully spend money on this minute, which is exactly what they ought to be thinking.
Third, I suspect the Obama team is going to understand the value in an announcing a commitment to a sustained stimulus package. At present, we’re talking about at least $600 billion over the course of two years, in stimulus. Not all spending on new Obama policies, just stimulus. I think it’s safe to say that the initial round of projects will have the highest proportion of highway projects to transit and rail projects.
And finally, while stimulus is an excellent opportunity to kick-start green projects, I would rather have an Obama administration that devoted stimulus entirely to known quantities like road repairs and who changed the mundane, budgetary structures to favor things like rail, than someone who used stimulus to boost transit agencies but left the difficult institutional work undone.
When it comes time to choose between initiating massive new road projects and massive new rail and transit projects, I don’t have the least doubt that Obama will press hard for the latter.