Here’s a thought that hit me recently: In the long run, the cost of building infrastructure approaches free, while the cost of maintaining it is infinite.
Roads are a prime example. Since the advent of paved roads maintained by the state and federal governments, roads haven’t gone away. Virginia never says “Hey, listen, this four lane road? We really only needed two lanes now. So we’re going to just tear up this extra asphalt and return this land to the folks we seized it from me.” Those four lanes are forever. Now, it’s a fact that state government won’t exist infinitely. But it will exist indefinitely. We have to plan for it to continue on for the remainder of time, rather than assuming that we’ll all die in a nuclear holocaust within 150 years. The cost of maintaining infrastructure is enormously expensive. As the length of its existence continues, its proportion in relation to the cost of constructing it approaches infinite, with the construction cost approaching zero.
This isn’t to argue that we should ignore construction cost. Clearly, if we don’t have the money for something, we can’t build it. No, I’m suggesting just the opposite: that we can’t keep building new roads and assuming that we’ve gotten the expensive stuff done once that new cloverleaf is finished. That’s just the beginning of a long, very expensive commitment. Perhaps it’s time we modified our accounting to factor in the cost of maintenance, rather than continuing to pretend that it’s free.