Tilting at High Speed Rail

I finally got around to finishing the New York Times Sunday Magazine on “Infrastructure,” which was a little disappointing…partly because the newly shrunk format just doesn’t have as much content, partly because they didn’t pick the most compelling angles on infrastructure.  Speaking as an infrastructure nerd, it didn’t meet my high standards.  But it did have an article on everyone’s favorite topic, high speed rail. And by everyone’s favorite topic, I mean “next stop, controversy city!”

So, what did we learn from the ol’ NYT. The author does a less than convincing job getting us to buy that California is ever going to get this thing going (most of the article is a list of challenges and barriers to success), but it does do a decent job of reminding us of the “good old days of infrastructure building” and begs the question “what happened to our stomach for large public works?”

The latter is a question that I know a lot of people are asking, and many people have proposed solutions – from a national infrastructure bank to the federal stimulus act (although significantly less of the $787 billion goes to old school infrastructure than you would have thought.) And I can’t believe that it’s just the ghost of the Big Dig hovering over us and taking our appetite away. To be honest, it’s probably a lot of things, from the rise of the conservative movement’s small government and anti-tax sentiment to the rising costs of everything from labor to concrete. But its pretty clear to a lot of folks that we need that energy back, to repair our crumbling existing stock, to better accommodate population growth and to lay the groundwork for 21st century technology.

I think that’s one of the reasons why you have so much passion about high speed rail. In addition to the debate about whether or not it will work, there’s a desire to do it just to show that we can do something at this scale again.

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