A bridge collapses in Minnesota a couple of years ago and it becomes virtually unanimously agreed that our country's roads and bridges are seriously outdated and the main component of any "stimulus package" should be the rebuilding of our "infrastructure". (That the Minnesota collapse was due to a design flaw rather than age seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle.)

Of course no one really knows how much infrastructure would be appropriate since there is no market in it and building new roads and bridges seems to get decided upon based on such factors as political influence and earmarks.

Let's guess there are a few hundred thousand bridges in the country (depending on exact definition of bridge). If most of them were seriously deteriorating, wouldn't more than one bridge fall down every couple of years? And doesn't the fact that bridges practically never fall mean that they are actually in pretty good shape? Maybe even in much better shape than the minimum needed?

I don't mean to make light of the personal tragedy of the three people who died when the Minnesota bridge fell. But what is going on here? Media crying wolf? Politicians drumming up public fear so they can justify their pork? Statistical and economic ignorance by the media and politicians? All of the above?

Thank goodness there was that bridge to nowhere or we'd have no check at all on infrastructure spending and the stimulus package would be two or three times as large.

Pitt T. Maner III comments:

With respect to infrastructure I wonder if the fiber optic business will at some point make a revival. Thesis being there is a need to maintain and upgrade the Information Highway /Internet. Companies like Corning were once selling at 10X from where they are today. Is there another technology that will replace those older fiber optic lines?

Stefan Jovanovich adds:

As the noted philosopher Homer Simpson once said, "Public transit is for losers." Roads offer individuals choice; "mass transit" is the planners dream. As James concedes, it is also a guaranteed money loser. Roads and bridges actually pay for themselves; the tolls here in the Bay Area have been subsidizing BART for more than 3 decades. The presumption that the dreaded foreigners in the auto and oil industry will benefit disproportionately from road construction is mercantilism at its finest. I thought we all shared the odd notion that the consumers should decide matters, not the producers. (Oh, wait, that would mean a "rescue plan" that focused on the depositors — my bad.)


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