Of the Senate’s $1.1 trillion infrastructure bill, California expects to receive at least $39.4 billion over the next five years to help rebuild its roads and bridges, and to improve public transportation. The problem is, writes Reason’s Adrian Moore in PRI’s new book Saving California, “Infrastructure takes long-term thinking, planning, and prioritizing, and California’s poor performance on improving infrastructure shows the lack of all three.”
In the past decade, state spending on infrastructure exploded from $86 billion to $164 billion, even as infrastructure conditions worsened. Why? Moore explains: “the state squanders what it spends, paying too much for everything, pumping billions into foolish and marginal projects, wasting vast sums on overhead and administration, and just getting a terrible bang for the buck.”
So if Californians are looking forward to smoother roads, safer bridges, plentiful water, and fewer wildfires from the addition of $39 billion (on top of the $51.8 billion Gov. Newsom already plans to spend in his 5-Year Infrastructure Plan), Californians should plan to wait longer.
Thanks to the Senate, the state stands to receive $25.3 billion for highway programs along with $4.2 billion for bridge replacement and repair. California could also compete for a chunk of the $12.5 billion Bridge Investment Program — funds for what the White House calls “economically significant bridges.”
Other potential benefits from the bill include: $9.45 billion over five years to improve bus, rail and other forms of public transit; $384 billion for electric vehicle charging stations; and $100 million to help provide broadband access throughout the state.
California will also have access to $8.3 billion targeted for water infrastructure projects in the West, including $1 billion for water recycling systems and more than $1 billion for water storage and groundwater storage projects, as well as $3.3 billion to fund wildfire risk reduction.
And let’s not forget California’s Bullet Train to Nowhere. The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s spokeswoman Melissa Figueroa said the agency is already eyeing about $20 billion to $40 billion it could compete for if the bill ultimately passes.
And finally, California could also seek money from a $16 billion slush fund dedicated to “major projects that will deliver substantial economic benefits to communities” (of favored elected officials of course).
California is already awash in cash, and with some “long-term thinking, planning, and prioritizing,” as Moore suggests, the state could have managed infrastructure repairs and projects on its own. In his chapter in PRI’s book Saving California, he outlines some practical recommendations:
- Make infrastructure a priority
- Prioritize projects based on impact and benefit
- Address political and management barriers
- Focus on the long-term life cycle of projects, not just the current legislative session
- Use public-private partnerships.
“Inadequate infrastructure is a ball and chain on California,” writes Moore, but sensible policy changes will break that chain.
There’s discontent running across the state as Californians, rising from the pandemic, wake up to the results of decades of progressivism. Saving California from crumbling into the Pacific along with its roads and bridges is a matter of political will, but when that time comes, Californians will be surprised at how practical the solutions are.
To read Adrian Moore’s chapter on California’s infrastructure and about other policy changes that can save the state, click to Saving California: Solutions to the state’s biggest policy problems and our Next Round podcast with Adrian Moore.
Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.