There is a bipartisan consensus that U.S. infrastructure needs fixing. Rather than spending money on another one-time stimulus package, Congress should instead embark on a series of microeconomic reforms that would set the stage for decades of growth while strengthening and invigorating U.S. infrastructure.
Reforms that would support commerce, expand markets and improve access to jobs in key industries have been carefully considered and are ready for implementation. Here are a few examples:
■Amtrak: America’s intercity passenger rail service — provided by Amtrak under a government monopoly structure — lags by international standards. Amtrak is really two railroads in one. One is the Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston. The Northeast Corridor is potentially profitable, with the distances between stops, population densities, and concentrated central business districts necessary for successful passenger rail. This contrasts with the rest of Amtrak’s service, called the National Network, which features longer-distance, lower-density, unprofitable service running on freight-train tracks.
Competition could be introduced by granting two (or more) companies operating rights on Northeast Corridor tracks, or via short-term, exclusive concession contracts.
■Postal reform: The U.S. Postal Service is an underappreciated network infrastructure asset. As the only delivery service stopping at every address six days a week, its importance is rising in the internet shopping age. Sadly, U.S. postal policy is wildly outdated. Two basic reforms are de-monopolization (and thus deregulation), and corporatization (not privatization). Deregulation would free the Postal Service to become more customer-focused, to develop innovative products, and to form new business partnerships.
■Air traffic control reform: While America’s postal services are antiquated, its air traffic control system is downright scary.
Step one is to remove air traffic control from Federal Aviation Administration control. As a safety regulator, the FAA’s bureaucratic, risk-averse culture conflicts with operating a commercial service, particularly one requiring cutting-edge technology.
Rather than simply spending money, the new Congress should show it has the political will to implement landmark improvements in U.S. infrastructure policy that will create economic benefits for decades to some.
Rick Geddes is a professor at Cornell University, where he directs the Cornell Program in Infrastructure Policy. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.