The president, not content to stay in Washington and run the United States, has been going around the country thumping the tubs for huge new public works projects to put people back to work. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but it is worth remembering that in the beginning of his presidency he was saying the same thing, and not much happened. Remember “shovel-ready projects?”
Somehow, we all could close our eyes and envision previously unemployed people back to work with shovels in hand, or their hands on the controls of backhoes, building things.
Except in a few instances, that didn’t happen. Not many new bridges were built, not many new dams sprang up, not many new roads were laid down.
Which was probably due to the president’s own naïveté. Not all that many projects were shovel ready. And not many would become so. The principal reason for that was the efforts of many of the president’s own supporters, who would do just about anything to stop useful things from being built.
Yes, it is true, as the president said, that the nation’s bridges are badly in need of repair and/or replacement. Yet, to do any major work on a bridge over a waterway requires wading through regulations, fighting lawsuits, arguing over designs — and going far over budget.
The east span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, damaged in the 1989 earthquake, still isn’t entirely completed. It has cost many billions more than the original estimate. It may open this year, it may not. It was never shovel-ready.
Work on the California High-Speed Rail System also was supposed to be ready to start — last year. Now, it is supposed to begin in September, just west of our very own Amtrak station (a public work which took some 10 years to complete).
It’s good President Obama wants to help fix up the country’s infrastructure, but he has to remember that the infrastructure was built at a time when you could actually get something done.