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Two Years Not Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals [pdf] (commongood.org)
51 points by apsec112 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 6 comments

I would really much prefer reading this on a webpage where the text size, color palette, and pagination are scaled to my viewport and preferences.

I had a realization last night while thinking about NEPA. Americans care about other things a lot more than they care about infrastructure, and us rail fans, urbanists, etc., just need to get over it. The current state of infrastructure development in the U.S. is the product of bi-partisan factors and nobody (not literally nobody,b ut not enough people) want to change the status quo.

NEPA, was signed into law by Richard Nixon, with the full support of Democrats. It is the perfect, bi-partisan, vehicle for ensuring that nothing gets built anywhere, ever. The average NEPA review for a transit project is now 6.6 years. A non-trivial number take a decade or more. For Democrats, it satisfies anti-development (historical preservationists, environmentalists, etc.) constituencies. For Republicans, it ensures that government will never have to spend real money on big transit projects. No need to seem like the bad guy and kill rail projects when various constituencies will use the NEPA process and litigate the projects to death anyway.

At the end of the day, most people are okay with the result. Or at least, they care about other things much more than building infrastructure. Republicans don't really mind spending a few million a year keeping projects on environmental review life support so long as that means indefinitely deferring having to actually build anything. Democrats, meanwhile, even if they like transit in principle, won't prioritize streamlining development and bringing down costs over satisfying other key constituencies: environmentalists, labor unions, etc. The New York City subway is literally melting down. It costs as much money to build a mile of subway in New York as it costs to build entire new fully automated subway lines in Spain. But addressing the underlying cost disease (which would mean taking on labor and public unions) is not even on anyone's radar. (And it makes sense--Democrats can't afford to lose those votes when it comes to higher-priority issues.) Here in D.C. the subway system, including nearly all the underground parts, was mostly built within a 10-year period. But it has taken more than 20 years to extend a single line through exurban Virginia, mostly along a highway median that was expressly reserved for that purpose decades ago. Metro's current 2040 plan proposes a single new line, which will almost certainly never be built.

They say that if you spend too much time working on your weaknesses, you'll spend all your time focusing on what you're bad at instead of what you're good at. As an urbanist, and a "city person," I have given up pining for Japanese or European style public infrastructure. It's just never going to happen. America isn't built that way and doesn't want to be. The American political system enables the things Americans care about: road construction. Road construction is, for the most part, excluded from NEPA. I was shocked how cheaply and quickly the State of Maryland managed to repave my local segment of Route 50 near Annapolis. America probably has the best exurbs and strip malls in the world. I have learned to enjoy them. (Maybe I'll get an EV to assuage my guilt.)

> Metro's current 2040 plan proposes a single new line, which will almost certainly never be built.

And will be billions over budget and I'm sure when it opens there will be a ton of issues. This had been the status quo lately. Under bid, charge more during development while politicians addres under pressure, rush thing and perform subpar work, open and renewal electrical issues and cracking foundations.

Don't road projects also get hung up on years of delays and cost overruns in part due to the NEPA and in part due to the cost disease symptoms you mention?

Boston's Big Dig comes to mind as a clear example of this.

The really tragic thing about that is that ten years later we're still waiting on the transit extensions that were supposed to be part of the environmental mitigations that came out of the review process. Which themselves were delayed and over budget, though the actual build contractor came in way under the estimate from the design phase.


If you keep breaking the site guidelines, we're going to have to ban you again. I'd prefer not to, because your comments sometimes contain good information. But the flamewar and trollishness is doing more damage than the value the good stuff adds. Also, it's against HN's rules to routinely create new accounts.

Would you mind reviewing https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and commenting within the spirit of this site? The idea is: if you have a substantive point to make, make it thoughtfully; if you don't, please don't comment until you do.

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