Transportation Infrastructure as Status Symbol

I won’t name names since every city will have its own examples.

When I first began to work as a transportation planner I wondered why some projects were ever even considered. I thought that they could not be justified on strictly economic grounds. Even so, these projects had broad public support.

The explanation I came up with was that the projects were status symbols. It was like a person who bought an expensive car when a typical econo-box would have served their needs quite well.

It got a little more complicated later when some of these projects turned out to perform much better than I thought they would. In retrospect they could be seen as visionary. They couldn’t be dismissed as just status symbols.

More recently there was a lot of controversy over a particular bridge. The debate focussed on the relative merits of the bridge as a transportation facility. I never thought of it as a transportation project. I saw it as a monumental work of art. They could have just as easily built some else. The transportation aspect of the structure was secondary.

Are these kinds of projects justified? I feel that in these cases the question is beyond the purview of transportation planning.

I do think that you can justify projects like these, but as a transportation planner I’d like the aesthetic component of the project to be addressed separately. They can stand on their own and there is no need to confuse the issues.

Most people would agree that attractive and even beautiful infrastructure contributes to a better life in the city. Of course, it is hard to get many people to agree what is beautiful.

I’m not sure right now how I can incorporate this idea in the transportation stories I plan to write. I’m not sure it would be a good choice for the main plot. It might work well as a subplot or as some ambience.

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