Politics & Media
Jan 12, 2009, 06:47AM

A bridge is a bridge is a bridge

The author takes NYT columnist Tom Friedman to town.

Don't mess with bridges, man:

Tom Friedman is surely right to say that investing in our education system would be a good idea. But not only does the specific proposal he makes suffer from the problems Kevin Carey details, but he’s dead wrong about this purported contrast:

Sure, we’ll waste some money doing that. That will happen with bridges, too. But a bridge is just a bridge. Once it’s up, it stops stimulating. A student who normally would not be interested in science but gets stimulated by a better teacher or more exposure to a lab, or a scientist who gets the funding for new research, is potentially the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. They create good jobs for years. Perhaps more bridges can bail us out of a depression, but only more Bills and Steves can bail us into prosperity.

This is totally wrong. A bridge doesn’t “stop stimulating” the economy once it’s done. Well-functioning bridges are integral to economic prosperity. The economic success of Northern Virginia is built in part on a solid foundation of a highly educated workforce. But it’s also built on the fact that there are bridges across the Potomac River. The most important economic impact of the bridges over the river isn’t the immediate job-creation effect that building them had. It’s that first the construction of highway-bridges created the NoVa DC suburbs and second that the construction of rail bridges allowed the creation of the dense corridors of economic activity that shape and define Arlington County.


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