New Jersey vs. China: Guess Which One Gets Infrastructure Right

Dave Johnson

Here are two contrasting infrastructure stories to following up on yesterday’s post, “Investment In Infrastructure Would Cure Today’s Slow Growth Problem”:

The U.S. has deferred maintaining (never mind modernizing) our infrastructure for so long (since the Reagan tax cuts?) that the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gives us a D+, and states flatly that we need to spend $3.6 trillion by 2020 just to get back up to basic standards. (Imagine how many people would be hired, how many contractors and suppliers would be booming, and how many small businesses that sell to them would also be booming!)

Here is just one small example of America’s crumbling infrastructure and the economic consequences. The story, “New Jersey Rail Nightmare: A Sign of the Infrastructure Crisis to Come” in the Fiscal Times begins as follows:

The federal government’s failure to invest in the country’s infrastructure has become such a significant concern to professional planners that both national and international organizations regularly rate the U.S. among the worst developed countries in terms of its maintenance of roads, ports, rail transit, and the electrical grid. Even so, barring major power outages or high-profile bridge collapses, the country’s crumbling infrastructure rarely penetrates the consciousness of the general public.

Soon, people will have to pay attention to infrastructure — at least in the New York/New Jersey area. The two rail tunnels under the Hudson River need repair. That means they will each be closed for one year, one at a time. Every day, 400,000 people travel through the tunnels. Both are already over capacity, but four years ago New Jersey Gov. Christie cancelled plans to build a new, modern tunnel, to “save money. (Even though $600 million had already been spent on design and planning work.)

The entire New York/New Jersey region will soon feel the consequences of deferred maintenance and failure to modernize our infrastructure. According to the story, tunnel capacity won’t go down by 50 percent for those 400,000 people who rely on these rail systems. It will go down by 75 percent.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet — both geographically and economically:  “China to bring gigabit Internet speeds to key cities by 2020.”

The Chinese government set out the target in its new broadband strategy announced on Saturday. By 2020, Internet speeds will need to reach 50 Mbps (megabits per second) in the country’s cities, and 12 Mbps in China’s rural areas.

In addition, gigabit Internet service, which can reach 1000 Mbps, will be available in the country’s more developed cities, according to the government.

China is working on internet speeds of 1000 Mbps in major cities, and 12-50 Mbps elsewhere. Currently, South Korean internet users get an average speeds of 14.2 Mbps, Japan’s get 11.7 Mbps. Here in the U.S. we get an average speed of 8.6 Mbps.

China is known for other infrastructure investment as well. For example, high-speed rail. In “China High-Speed Rail Juggernaut, while Most of U.S. Stands By and Waves,” Forbes’ Sarwant Singh explains:

As of December 2013, China already has 11,085 kilometers of operational HSR tracks compared to the having no HSR tracks in 2000. By 2020, the Chinese ministry aims to have completed 25,000 kilometers of total HSR track, which will connect all of its major cities. Some of these lines are passenger designated lines (PDL), while others are also capable of carrying freight, known as high-speed logistics.

China has 11,085 kilometers of HSR already built. Meanwhile, conservatives here try to block California from starting our country’s first kilometer*. Because that would involve government spending. How is all this government spending affecting China’s economy? China’s growth rate in 2010 was 10.4%, 2012 7.7% and approx 7.2% now. Ours was 1.9% last year.

The Republican approach, at least since the days of Reagan has been, “Hey look at this big pile of seed corn. Let’s eat it!”

*Explanations: For Republicans, a kilometer is a thousand meters, or 0.621371192 miles. For conservative Republicans, a meter is a little bit longer than a yard and a kilometer is just over six-tenths of a mile. For Tea Partiers, meters and kilometers are communist things. A kilometer is not quite as much distance as a mile because government took almost half of it.

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