Mr. Mead correctly identifies three major problems facing infrastructure funding: nimbyism, cronyism and an outdated vision of what infrastructure ought to be. However, there is a greater underlying problem: the concentration of infrastructure spending decisions in Washington. For example, the national highway system's major corridors are funded 80% by the federal government and only 20% by the states.
The stated purpose of federal funding of transportation infrastructure is to promote interstate mobility. But this funding arrangement reduces local accountability, leading to pork-barrel infrastructure investments of dubious value at the expense of maintaining or reconstructing existing infrastructure. These misallocations reduce the long-run efficiency of the network, costing more than just government largess.
If all infrastructure investment decision-making were to be devolved to the states, investment in wasteful projects would still occur but not with the same high frequency as under the federal status quo. Removing Washington from the equation is the only way for Mr. Mead's 21st-century vision to be realized.