From "Highway to hell revisited", a Financial Times article by Christopher Caldwell:
The Highway Act probably has more defenders than detractors. But Mr Obama should be among the latter. The act, which budgeted $25bn in federal money to build 41,000 miles of motorway, exacerbated the very problems Mr Obama has been most eager to solve – spoliation of the environment, dependence on foreign oil, overburdening of state and local budgets, abandonment of the inner-city poor and reckless speculation in real-estate development, to name a few.
The article goes on to discuss the history of the Highway act of 1956, some of the problems it caused, and critiques of the sprawl caused by the dangerous feedback-loop created by over allocating resources to infrastructure. I recommend reading the whole article, which concludes:
The infrastructure network that came out of the Highway Act had higher overheads than the one it replaced. It became a bottomless pit of spending.
The largest building project in Mr Obama’s Recovery Act is $27bn for roads, and there have been no complaints that the government will have a hard time finding things to spend it on. The US has big economic problems. But they have been made worse, and harder to resolve, by a half-century in which, at federal urging, the country was misbuilt.
There is an inherent bias in favour of government projects. The successes can be mythologised through commemoration, goading future generations to imitate them. The failures are fixable only through equally extensive projects to undo them. This makes it easy to forget that there is no social or economic problem so big that a poorly targeted government intervention cannot make it worse.
On the subject of “misbuilding”, this Onion video is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a while, and is pretty much how I view highway spending:
In The Know: Should The Government Stop Dumping Money Into A Giant Hole?