Financed by New York State, the Erie Canal, for instance, facilitated trade from the docks of Manhattan to the emerging West, in the process helping make New York the world’s financial capital. After the Civil War, land grants gave the Union and Central Pacific railroad companies an incentive to build and expand—knowing that their tracks were making the once-worthless adjoining land valuable to the homesteaders, builders, and ranchers who soon followed. The interstate highway system had a similar impact a century later—this time through direct federal financing—and sparked the suburban building boom. Even during the Great Depression, spending on big projects opened new economic frontiers. Thanks to Robert Moses, New York garnered the lion’s share of the New Deal’s Public Works Administration funding to help build the engineering miracle of its time: the Triborough Bridge, which put thousands to work and linked the Bronx and Queens to Manhattan, opening new neighborhoods for construction and improving the flow of goods.
Husock points out that state and local officials plan to spend their federal funds on small-ticket "shovel ready" projects such as upgrading sewage plants and fixing traffic lights while bigger projects languish in the planning process thanks to environmental activists, NIMBY-ists and assorted other roadblocks. He approvingly points to China.
Consider the Robert Moses-like vision motivating the soon-to-be-built Hong Kong-Zhuhai bridge, which will link Hong Kong’s Lantau Island (site of the city’s ultra-modern airport) with the Chinese mainland. The bridge will provide a direct highway link to exporters from as far away as Vietnam. Notably, though government will provide some support, the bridge will be a private, toll-financed project undertaken by the legendary Sir Gordon Wu, whose Hopewell Holdings has built such projects all over South China. By such efforts are economies energized.
Unless something drastically changes in the way we do business, I don't foresee this happening here. Also, do we really want to hold up China, land of the Three Gorges Dam as an ideal? Don't get me wrong--I love the infrastructure. I want more and bigger and better infrastructure. I just wonder if we can ever get past the paralysis. Even in our current economic climate.