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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

December 10, 2010 at 9:40 AM

Infrastructure spending a bright spot for Seattle economy

Here comes a local infrastructure investment boom. There’s the $3.1 billion Highway 99 corridor, including the deep-bore tunnel beneath downtown Seattle; the $4.6 billion 520 bridge and approaches; the $1.9 billion university light-rail extension, and $750 million for improving passenger train capacity and speeds — even if not true high-speed rail.

In addition to helping transportation and the general good (and I know the tunnel will be endlessly debated), the projects will undeniably put people to work in one of the worst hurt sectors, construction, as well as helping a variety of subcontractors and business services. This is a big deal at a time when the expansion, such as it is, remains fragile and uneven.

I worked in Denver in the early 1990s, and the city was cushioned against that recession by building Denver International Airport, the first phase of light rail and other projects. These public investments in infrastructure return their costs, as opposed to, say, endless military entanglements and billions lost to warlords (and bankers).

With unemployment still in crisis and no rescue for the housing sector — U.S. house values are expected to fall $1.7 trillion in 2010 — large infrastructure investments are badly needed nationwide. We’re still using many of the projects built during the Great Depression, from Grand Coulee and Hoover dams to the Golden Gate Bridge. But it’s not happening now, due to lack of leadership and political gridlock.

Too bad for America. More needs to be done here, especially to improve rail and truck transportation from the ports going inland. But barring some political bolt from the blue (or red), western Washington will get a boost

Today’s Econ Haiku:

Extending tax cuts

Just ask our Chinese bankers

Give the rich a hand

Comments | More in Infrastructure, Transportation

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