MARYLAND HAS ALREADY TRIED THAT
New I-95 spaghetti at the Beltway
If economic investment in infrastructure is such a big stimulus to the economy, Maryland should already have gold flowing in the streets.
The state got a huge jump on President Obama's approach to economic stimulus when it went into a seemingly bottomless hole of debt last year to start construction of the InterCounty Connector highway in Montgomery and Prince Georges County. That highway was originally supposed to cost about $2 Billion, but now nobody really knows what the price tag will be. It will certainly cost much more than that.
Construction to widen Interstate 95 north of Baltimore is another $1.4 Billion injected recently into the local economy, and the final cost of that is still unknown as well. Meanwhile, the reconstruction of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge from PG County to Virginia is also still going on, injecting still more billions into the economy.
Compared to all that, the Maryland share of the trillion dollar Obama stimulus plan for transportation will amount to pocket change - approximately half a billion. Vice President Biden was in the state yesterday touting $2.9 million (with an "m") to renovate the Brunswick MARC station as an example of the new stimulus spending. Maryland Transportation secretary John Porcari pointed out that the old platform at Brunswick was tripping up women in high heels. Does this mean that high heels are a key to economic recovery?
The Brunswick MARC station may be a great project, but it was certainly a low priority for MDOT since they spent billions elsewhere before they got to it. What projects does the state of Maryland think are really important? The InterCounty Connector and I-95 widening, of course. These are the projects that the state had decided are worth spending billions on. Not the projects in the current stimulus package.
Every project needs to be evaluated on its own merits. If the MARC station project was worth it, then it shouldn't have had to wait.
The problem with infrastructure spending as an economic recovery tool is that it focuses money into a relatively small sector of the economy, where investment is inflexible and is not labor intensive. True economic recovery would be broad based, where investment in monetary and human capital would naturally flow to those sectors where it would provide the greatest and most labor intensive returns. Obama's economic advisers reportedly say that infrastructure is the best sector to accomplish this, but economic studies have always persistently said that small business is the greatest engine to economic growth.
Another big problem with infrastructure is that the payoffs happen over a very long period of time - decades rather than months. Maryland will not be seeing the true impact of the InterCounty Connector, Woodrow Wilson Bridge, I-95 widening and other highway projects - for better mobility and/or greater sprawl, etc. - for decades. And who knows? By that time, maybe women's high heels will be passe.