President Joe Biden’s $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan is a wretched mess of bloat, giveaways and Green New Deal-style posturing. It intends to tax-and-spend our way out of the pandemic funk by raising taxes on businesses already battered by lockdowns and spending that money on liberal agenda items that make Democrats feel warm and fuzzy but do little to make America’s infrastructure better.
If you want an object lesson in just how broken this plan is, look no further than the New Orleans neighborhood of Tremé, where Biden would spend federal money to destroy a highway that’s already been built in the name of “advanc[ing] racial equity and environmental justice.”
Or look to Syracuse, New York, where the same thing would happen to a section of Interstate 81.
Or Houston, where an Interstate 45 expansion was paused recently at the behest of Biden’s Department of Transportation because some in the community deemed the expansion to be “racist.”
These are the priorities of an infrastructure plan that Biden said, in his opening pitch Wednesday, would “grow the economy, make us more competitive around the world, promote our national security interest and put us in a position to win the global competition with China in the upcoming years.”
In New Orleans, it would do this by tearing down the Claiborne Expressway. Quoth The Washington Post’s Ian Duncan, the highway, built in 1968, is “an example of a historic inequity that President Biden’s new infrastructure plan would seek to address through billions in new spending.”
Tremé resident Amy Sally has waged a campaign for years to have the expressway, which cuts through a predominately black neighborhood, removed.
Duncan said Sally “struggled to get support from local leaders. Neighbors considered the quest to be wishful thinking.”
“Nobody thinks you can get rid of a highway,” she told The Post.
They do when the president thinks a fund that apportions billions to destroy existing infrastructure in the name of equity is an example of “building back better.”
“I’m floored,” she said Wednesday. “I’m thrilled to hear President Biden would call out the Claiborne Expressway as a racist highway.”
In fact, according to E&E News, the $621 billion that the Biden administration wants to spend on infrastructure is meant to address “historic inequities and build the future of transportation infrastructure.”
“The President’s plan includes $20 billion for a new program that will reconnect neighborhoods cut off by historic investments and ensure new projects increase opportunity, advance racial equity and environmental justice, and promote affordable access,” a fact sheet from the White House read.
It name-checked two highways in particular: “Too often, past transportation investments divided communities — like the Claiborne Expressway in New Orleans or I-81 in Syracuse — or it left out the people most in need of affordable transportation options.”
In the case of I-81, color Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York thrilled.
“It is wonderful for Syracuse that President Biden listened to us and included the vital I-81 reformation as a poster child for enlightened infrastructure policy, calling for new investment to help communities pay for tearing down urban highways to reconnect and transform neighborhoods previously left behind,” Schumer said in a statement, according to Syracuse.com.
“The $2 billion plan would reroute highway traffic onto nearby Interstate 481 and rebuild part of Interstate 690 that crosses downtown,” the outlet reported.
The argument is that these highways, though intended to reduce travel times, were built through black neighborhoods.
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The paradox, however, is that I-81 and the Claiborne Expressway, part of Interstate 10, were built as part of the massive Interstate Highway System project — mentioned not infrequently by Biden on Wednesday as a polestar for his new infrastructure plan.
For example, he said the initiative is “not a plan that tinkers around the edges, it’s a once-in-a-generation investment in America, unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the Interstate Highway System and the space race decades ago.
“In fact, it’s largest American jobs investment since World War II. It’ll create millions of jobs, good-paying jobs. It’ll grow the economy, make us more competitive around the world, promote our national security interest and put us in a position to win the global competition with China in the upcoming years.”
And it’ll do this by destroying highways to build highways. It’s Keynesian ditch-digging, all in the name of racial equity.
Not that we shouldn’t have seen this coming. In December, Pete Buttigieg, then the nominee to head the Department of Transportation, said this on social media:
“Black and brown neighborhoods have been disproportionately divided by highway projects or left isolated by the lack of adequate transit and transportation resources.
“In the Biden-Harris administration, we will make righting these wrongs an imperative.”
In early March, we saw the nascent practical effects of this when the Department of Transportation effectively put a hold on an expansion of Interstate 45 in Houston, first by sending a letter to the Texas Department of Transportation asking it to stop the project and then by sending the Federal Highway Administration to sue Texas, as Bloomberg reported.
“Basically we’ve for decades been prioritizing highways over the ability to get around. We need to be smarter about this,” Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said during a news conference, according to Bloomberg. (County judges are basically county executives in Texas.)
“The way we build should not focus on what’s easiest for cars,” Hidalgo said. “It should focus on what improves quality of life. That is not only the right thing to do but necessary to make sure our region remains competitive as the world continues to evolve and we work to retain and recruit the smartest people into our region.”
However, many of the concerns were focused around racial equity.
In a letter to the Texas DOT, Air Alliance Houston said the I-45 extension would “have a severe and disparate impact on generational Black and Hispanic/Latinx neighborhoods and Black and Hispanic/Latinx individuals.”
“Others wrote similar letters, including U.S. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee and the community organization Texas Housers,” Bloomberg reported.
“Those letters are what prompted the federal action from the highway administration, which says it will evaluate concerns raised under Title VI, the provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that forbids discrimination on ‘the ground of race, color, or national origin’ in federally funded programs or activities.”
NEW: The feds have told TXDOT to pause I-45 expansion pending further review. The truth is, they have acted in bad faith throughout this process, refusing to incorporate expert and community feedback. We won’t be bullied. Thanks to everyone who is pushing back. pic.twitter.com/WNwzmgd2eE
— Lina Hidalgo (@LinaHidalgoTX) March 11, 2021
At least the I-45 extension hasn’t been built and addressing it doesn’t necessarily appear to be a part of the Biden administration’s $20 billion bulldozer equity grab-bag — at least not yet.
However, it’s a glimpse into the mindset that will undergird one of the most misguided parts of a thoroughly injudicious infrastructure plan that deals with actual infrastructure problems (when it deals with them at all) through the lens of social engineering.
There’s another irony there, though: These highways exist because of the Robert Moses-style social engineering that went into designing projects such as the Interstate Highway System.
Back then, automobile transport was seen as the wave of the future. The engineers and bureaucrats who mapped out the system didn’t have the racial sensitivities of 2021, but they were also utopian do-gooders who believed that by breaking a few eggs, you’d get a whole lot more in return. If you had to run a highway through a neighborhood, sorry — but fast and accessible car travel makes things better for everyone else.
Such are the pitfalls of central planning and a government determined to “go big” at all costs.
The infrastructure is there, however, and it serves its purpose. Now, the new enlightened Robert Moseses of the Biden administration want to spend $20 billion to tear it down because our 21st-century utopian do-gooders have come to the conclusion that, at a time we’re bleeding money like a drunken poker player, what our nation’s infrastructure needs is less infrastructure.
Then, presumably, we’ll need more infrastructure where the old infrastructure used to be, except more equitable.
Keep in mind, this is only $20 billion of $2.25 trillion in spending that’s being proposed. The same misguided spirit permeates the entire plan — which aims to build, repair and replace infrastructure through the lens of ideology under the assumption that’ll make America competitive.
Of course, even though the plan is oft-compared to the Interstate Highway System, it’ll lead to no externalities like these “racist” highways in the Interstate Highway System that are such a blight on equity they need to be torn down.
Rest assured, our benevolent central planners know better these days. You can trust them to socially engineer with the $2.25 trillion they want — more than $6,800 for every American — with the same wisdom they plan on spending that $20 billion in places like New Orleans and Syracuse.
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