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Reader's view: Roads suffer from our focus on short-term goals

The Roman Empire understood roads sustain economic growth. Unfortunately, today, self-inflicted budget suffocation for 21 years has prevented increasing the federal gas tax rate. In 1960, a larger percentage of the U.S. economy was spent on public transportation infrastructure than today. The electorate clearly does not feel responsible for carrying the road-maintenance financial burden. Some mistakenly believe federal money covers state road work and plowing. Public indifference eventually will undercut business competitiveness, which requires both well-maintained roads and fast Internet access.

Is mass transit a luxury threatening rural roads? We live in suspended grace, incredulous that road modes of transit, believed to be fully self-sustaining for exercising our “right” to drive, require subsidy. Some feel strongly that since long-term Minnesota transportation funding was historically “resolved” in 2008, suggestions to replenish deficient road or street revenues should look anywhere but in the public wallet.

The public sector can serve the common good but is typecast as inefficient, wasteful and not living within its means. This judgment compels reducing government, following the theory that when public expenditures are cut or frozen the fundamental cost to drivers should disappear — or stop increasing. When shifted, costs continue climbing; paying more in a free market “tastes better” and is “less filling” than taxes.

Allowing more private toll roads is one trial balloon offered to break gridlocked infrastructure austerity. The Bridge Act proposal in the U.S. Congress would create a national infrastructure bank and invite private Real Estate Investment Trusts and Master Limited Partnerships to invest.

However, despite this country’s dire unmet needs, most capital focuses on its own short-term goals. The financial sector connects less with brick-and-mortar reality, lured away by arbitrage gambits and high-frequency trading. Foreign capital supplies most current U.S. infrastructure investment; U.S. investors seek higher-yield wealth management.

Lars White