View all Articles
Commentary By Aaron M. Renn

Rebuilding American Infrastructure

Cities Infrastructure & Transportation

When Donald Trump chose “Make America Great Again” as his campaign slogan, he put words to something Americans had increasingly come to see and feel. For many people, their personal lives and communities were no longer as great as they used to be, and they were looking for someone to set things right. Restoring rather than building greatness is an unusual challenge in America. But it is one that has become increasingly real over the last two decades, as much of the country has sunk into a malaise that is physically visible in distressed but once-thriving towns.

This need to Make America Great Again applies especially to our infrastructure. We have already built fantastic national networks of highways and bridges, airports, rail lines, inland waterways, electricity, water and sewer, and telecom infrastructure. The challenge today is not to build some vast footprint of new infrastructure in the style of the Transcontinental Railroad. Rather, it is to make the infrastructure we already have, much of which has been unconscionably left to decay, great again.

Like the project of restoring prosperity to many of our communities, this is an unusual challenge in our national history—and a politically difficult one, too. Politicians love to cut ribbons on new projects; it is much less exciting to maintain and renovate something built long ago under previous administrations. That political incentive to favor new construction over maintenance is part of how we got into this situation.

But this is a task President Trump knows something about. He has already proven that he knows how to obtain glory from rebuilding, not just building, infrastructure. In the 1980s, he pulled off a public relations coup by rescuing the reconstruction of Wollman Rink in Central Park.1 This meant rebuilding an ice rink that already existed, not creating an ice rink in the first place. But Trump still became a hero from it. This ability to make rebuilding buzzworthy means President Trump is the right man to make America’s infrastructure great again, if he focuses the government’s efforts on the right challenges and approaches.

New Infrastructure Is Not A Priority

Too often the term “infrastructure” is conflated with “transportation,” especially highways. This is because the federal government is a major financier of highway and transit infrastructure, and debates over the federal highway bill, the gas tax, etc., generate significant debate and publicity.

But America’s infrastructure encapsulates much more than just roads....

Read the entire piece here in the Summer 2017 Issue of American Affairs


Aaron M. Renn is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor at City Journal. Follow him on Twitter here.

This piece originally appeared in American Affairs