What will rural American taxpayers get in return for spending on infrastructure?

In my view, the biggest financial implication of the Biden/Harris victory is the transfer of funds from rural Americans to urban Americans. Big Government spends nearly all of its money in cities so a bigger government accelerates the process of looting from rural Americans to enrich those who live in cities, e.g., with free public housing, improved transportation systems, fancier hospitals, etc.

“Over budget and behind schedule: Why the Bay Area can’t get big transportation projects right” (San Jose Mercury News, June 27, 2021) has some interesting data:

In 1998, Caltrans estimated that a new eastern span of the Bay Bridge would cost $1.4 billion and take four years to build. The actual cost was $6.4 billion; plagued by design controversies, brittle steel rods and more, the project lasted 11 years.

The Transbay Transit Center in downtown San Francisco cost nearly twice as much as its initial budget and opened two years behind schedule — then had to close for another nine months to repair cracked steel beams that were not built to code.

Construction has not yet begun on the project extending BART service through downtown San Jose, but its price tag has risen twice over the last three years, to $6.9 billion, while its projected opening date has slipped by three to four years.

Now, with lawmakers in Washington announcing a deal for a huge increase in federal infrastructure spending, and officials in the Bay Area eyeing the next big round of “mega-projects” — including a second transbay BART tube, the extension of Caltrain service into downtown San Francisco and a long list of other plans that by one estimate could total $100 billion — there is mounting pressure to get our act together.

The high cost of transportation projects is not unique to the Bay Area. It’s a nationwide problem, with the United States frequently spending far more per mile of new subway construction, for instance, than other countries around the world.

Take the six-mile, four-station South Bay BART extension, for instance. The design for its 4.7-mile tunnel beneath downtown San Jose is based on a construction method pioneered in Barcelona that was meant to lower costs and minimize disruptions at street level during construction.

The Spanish project cost less than $250 million per mile, according to SPUR. The BART extension is set to cost well over $1 billion per mile.

The rest of the article isn’t so interesting. After decades of failure, it is obvious that Americans can reorganize government so that we will do everything efficiently going forward. (If it is that easy, why not reorganize ourselves to be able to build integrated circuits with competitive quality and price compared to what the Taiwanese are able to do? Then we wouldn’t have a chip shortage shutting down our car factories.)

I find it fascinating that so many Americans are still so enthusiastic about infrastructure spending when building infrastructure is one of the things that we are worst at. Even when urban dwellers can stick rural Americans with the bill, one would think that they’d prefer instead to loot out the rural Americans in some other way that would deliver greater benefits to city residents.


16 thoughts on “What will rural American taxpayers get in return for spending on infrastructure?

  1. My understanding is that net federal spending involves transfers from wealthy, urban areas to poor, rural areas. Causes include: Programs that allocate spending based on population have minimums that insure, for example, that rural school districts get a certain minimum amount of money even if their student enrollment is miniscule compared to an urban district. The presence of large military installations in rural areas. Farm crop subsidies. On and on. This is almost guaranteed by our political structure. The 600,000 people living in Wyoming get two US Senators, just like the 40,000,000 people of California. In essence California, Texas, Florida, and New York subsidize or bribe, depending on your perspective, the rural states of this country to go along with their priorities.

    The fact that this country doesn’t do a reasonable job of building or maintaining infrastructure is outside the scope of this comment. But I don’t think the assertion that rural taxpayers subsidize urban taxpayers can be supported.

  2. LOL. Let’s put our military installations on Wall Street and pay soldiers competitive salary. Rural schools here get almost zero from federal budgets, bulk (over 80%) comes from property taxes plus few dollars from state. Most of city districts are poor, poorer then rural areas and much poorer the suburbia. However school budgets there are 3 times of what they are in rural areas and, unlike in rural areas, are mostly financed by feds. Rich productive districts in cities are few and apart and held there by huge tax subsidy that put farm subsidies to shame.

  3. Kind of like the $1 billion bomber which has entered production, the $50,000 fine for touching a sea lion, or the $200,000 average salary in Los Gatos. When money is printed, there’s no meaning to any price.

    • However, shooting at sea lions with a gun you found under your park bench and killing a bystander is A-OK. No fine.

  4. We still need infrastructure even if it is expensive. As long as it is real infrastructure. What we also need is to move office farms from bottle-necked sites in urban areas; it s as if the work places are chosen based on how hard it is to get there. So infrastructure investments made sense and did not require extra three spacial dimensions to be effective.

  5. I think the mantra of US construction companies is either One Project to Last a Lifetime or Retire on 1 Project. What exactly is the reason to ask for $7B for 4 miles of BART in San Jose? BTW China this week just opened 250 miles of high speed electric rail between the largest two towns in Tibet and it was $5.xB.

    • The right of way up there (tibet) has got to be cheap and they probably have fewer regulatory hoops to jump through.

  6. At least heavy infrastructure subsidies might help keep the city dwellers in the city and out of the country 😉

    If most of the funding of cities through taxes comes from taxes, why should the federal government be involved? Why can’t the cities just use local taxes to pay for their infrastructure?

    The real answer is that we actually can’t afford any of this, and the cities aren’t as good at hiding/ignoring this fact as the federal government.

  7. Well, let ’em print and spend away. We all know we’re doomed. All the “rural” folks with Ford pickups can buy $10 (one year) Extended Licenses for Russian OBDII diagnostic software and $50 for a good multimode adaptor that gives them diagnostic capability almost equivalent to the dealership and better than anything else under $2,000, including reprogramming the PATS keys.


    So they can keep their pickup trucks with the gun racks in the back running strong.

    I ran that software yesterday for the first time (I paid using PAYPAL for the extended license) on my 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid and successfully rebalanced the high voltage battery pack. I have one minor DTC on the car, easy to fix. It is amazing. You can see everything, so the Russians know how to hack everything we got, thank you President Clinton!

    I have to pay $35 to the State of Massachusetts to get it inspected this week, so that’s great, it’ll pass with flying colors.

    We should just keep printing and spending and spending and printing and spending and printing FO EVAH! And we should especially keep hiring more administrators and programmers from Harvard.

    • Oh yeah, the adaptor. The software will also work with Android and iPads, and the first thing it does is interrogate the car’s Bluetooth to scan for an adaptor, then it cycles to the USB ports and establishes a high-speed connection via USB. Totally seamless, plug in + one click and you have everything in the car’s network right there on your screen. $60 bux. + shipping and taxes total (plus your old Windows 7 or higher laptop) and now you’re a Ford dealership technician.


      Now you can fix almost anything, but you can’t fix stupid. And our government is very stupid.

  8. “What will rural American taxpayers get in return for spending on infrastructure?”

    More taxes and more bureaucratic BS rammed up w/o vaseline.

    As if we haven’t seen any of that before…

  9. The peasants footed the bill for all of Rome’s majestic projects (they did get some roads…)

  10. But, just like the US Military and defense contractors, this huge infrastructure investment is really a jobs program.

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