If you have walked through Grand Central Station in New York City, 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, or even Union Station in Washington then you’ve likely been struck by the magnificence of their construction. These train stations were built like cathedrals, monuments to the successes of modern transportation. They are important, and we should take pride in their creation.
Unfortunately, they have set an unsustainable example for future infrastructure projects.
The Lexington Avenue subway line in New York City is used by 1.3 million people each day – by far the most used line in the country. There were originally two more train lines in that part of New York. They were elevated rails that helped manage the staggering number of commuters. They were torn down in 1945, with the promise that subways would be built in their place. It took six decades for one of those lines to open, and even then it has just three stops. The reason it took so long? Overspending, administrative errors, and unnecessarily lavish expectations.
There is a serious overspending issue when it comes to infrastructure in America. Elected officials want to leave their mark, to cement their historical legacies by building something that will be remembered and celebrated. Where a small subway station would do, transit officials have insisted on building them bigger, deeper, and grander than is necessary. This forces costs to skyrocket, and construction times to drag out. Aesthetic is given priority over function, which has ultimately hurt the American people.
Take the station beneath the new World Trade Center as an example. The temporary station that was built cost $323 million, and functioned efficiently and effectively. But that was insufficient for transit officials, who instead decided to spend billions of dollars constructing a station that would be an architectural masterpiece. The money spent to improve how the station looked could have been used to improve the functioning of New York’s already existing (and crumbling) transportation infrastructure.
It is projects like this that hinder progress meant to improve American infrastructure. Overspending wastes taxpayer money and slows construction. The GAIN coalition is excited that our nation’s infrastructure has recently become an issue at the forefront of American politics, and we hope the President’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill moves forward soon. Our elected officials must remember, though, that any money given for infrastructure projects should be spent to benefit all Americans, prioritizing functionality and efficiency. It’s time to help the people who actually use our transportation systems—not the people who are more concerned with their place in history.