This from the newly issued and celebrated report on America’s “shoddy” infrastructure:
In 2010, it was estimated that deficiencies in America’s surface transportation systems cost households and businesses nearly $130 billion. This included approximately $97 billion in vehicle operating costs, $32 billion in travel time delays, $1.2 billion in safety costs and $590 million in environmental costs.
In a report telling us how incredibly in need of money our infrastructure system is, I take dollar figures to be on the high side of reality. That said, is it really possible that accumulated infrastructure underinvestment in 2010 accounts for only $590 million in damage?
I’d expect environmentalists to be going nuts about this “low-ball” number. Maybe the fact that we now toss around numbers like trillions as if they were gumballs in a machine has deceived us from understanding the bigness or smallness of any number ending in “-llions” … but this $590 million represents less than $2 per American per year. And if this source is correct, Americans drive about 3 trillion miles per year, so this cost is (very roughly) two-hundreths of a penny per mile driven. If a typical car only gets 10 miles per gallon, then this amounts to less than two thousands of a penny per gallon of gas burned on the highway.
Of course, cars get better mileage, and more importantly, these figures are supposed to be the damage due to under-investment, not overall damages from driving. But they are small, almost to the point of being negligible. I doubt you’ll hear much about that.
And don’t forget something that I think I might have reminded you of this point just a few times before – the US government spends more money than the GDP of ANY other country in the world, yet our society of engineers tells us that our infrastructure is collapsing. Infrastructure is thought by many economists to be a public good, and that is one of the major roles of government. And they cannot get it done. Ponder that. $6 trillion per year and “infrastructure is crumbling” and the schools are failing. Nice. I wonder what they’d be able to do with a few more trillion? We’ll soon find out after we print those dollars.
, and less than 25 cents per passenger mile driven in the US. For a typical car that gets 20 miles per gallon,