Recently the House passed an $18 billion infrastructure bill, and Barack Obama has indicated that he'll ask for billions more in spending to create jobs while improving the nation's roads and bridges. But as New York Times columnist David Leonhardt writes, insufficient investment is only part of the problem. At the moment federal projects aren't linked to any goals, such as reducing congestion or pollution; instead we're building "Bridges to (Almost) Nowhere."
Spending on infrastructure is up 50% this decade, but the country's system remains a mess—largely because the cash is being frittered away on unresearched and unnecessary junk. Congress doesn't even gather data on its projects, meaning that politicians face no scrutiny for failed projects. At a time of economic crisis, we can't overhaul the whole system, Leonhardt concedes. But things are so bad now that "even a minimal amount of change would represent progress." (Read more infrastructure stories.)