Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Stuck In Traffic Pondering Madison's Use of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Dollars
In a moment of inattention while running errands this afternoon, I absent-mindedly let myself be funneled into the flow of traffic heading west on University Ave., which has been torn up for construction all summer. Supposedly, it will be finished sometime next month. Until then traffic conditions vary from backed-up to gridlock. I had plenty of time to ponder the signage documenting the use of the federal stimulus dollars, which -- as you can see -- funded more than half of this infrastructure project, which the sign notes, "is being done sooner and with LESS reliance on Local Property Taxes."
University Avenue certainly needed the work, local construction workers needed the work, and it's nice local property taxpayers caught a bit of a break. But the project is also a highly visible reminder of how public works spending has changed since the Great Depression. Back then, University Ave. would have been crawling with men with picks and shovels and wheelbarrows. A lot of infrastructure that, though in disrepair, still serves us today was practically built by hand as part of the public works programs of the Thirties. Today, even when we're trying to create jobs, people are just too expensive to put to work that way -- most of the work is done by machines, with humans either operating them or playing a supporting role. The jobs are more skilled and much better paid, but there are fewer of them. One man with a Bobcat replaces many men with shovels and wheelbarrows, and the big Cats practically replace a small army of workers.