'Healthy Streets' Program - What the ...?

Another Peek into the Infrastructure Bill

Welcome to another edition of, What’s in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act?! Last week we took a random peek into the version that had just come out of the Senate and found that the US government is prepping Americans for a national mileage tax. Since then, the bill has come out of committee resolving differences between the House and Senate, and has been signed into law by President Biden.

There has been a positive development: it looks like the bill is now only 1,039 pages long vs. 2,740 pages when we last took a peek. Do you think any of the politicians that voted for it actually read it? Silly you. Of course, not. The latest version is here.

So let’s take another random peek and see what we find.

Sec. 11406. Healthy Streets Program

On page 18, under Division A—Surface Transportation, Title I—Federal-Aid Highways, Subtitle D-Climate Change, we see the creation of a “Healthy Streets program.” What exactly is a “healthy street,” you ask? Well, hell if I know. But right off the bat we see that the program will get a cool $500,000,000 greenbacks over the period of 5 years! But, hey, that’s chump change in today’s environment.

(C) HEALTHY STREETS PROGRAM.—There is authorized to be appropriated to carry out the Healthy Streets program under section 11406 $100,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2022 through 2026.

Definitions

The details of the program start on page 147 with definitions of two pavement technologies:

(1) COOL PAVEMENT.—The term ‘‘cool pavement’’ means a pavement with reflective surfaces with higher albedo to decrease the surface temperature of that pavement.

(4) POROUS PAVEMENT.—The term ‘‘porous pavement’’ means a paved surface with a higher than normal percentage of air voids to allow water to pass through the surface and infiltrate into the subsoil.

Purpose and Goals

The stated purpose and goals of the program are to presumably cover-up or rip-up existing pavement and install these new “cool” & “porous” pavement types along with adding more trees.

(b) ESTABLISHMENT.—The Secretary shall establish a discretionary grant program …

  • (1) to deploy cool pavements and porous pavements; and

  • (2) to expand tree cover.

It’s obvious that this program is shelling out money under the guise of fighting the climate. But, what is not so obvious is that this program is only targeted to be implemented in low income and disadvantaged communities.

(d) APPLICATION.— … To be eligible to receive a grant … the application submitted … (1) shall include a description of— (A) how the eligible entity would use the grant funds; and (B) the contribution that the projects … would make to improving the safety, health outcomes, natural environment, and quality of life in low income communities and disadvantaged communities.

(e) USE OF FUNDS.—An eligible entity that receives a grant under the program may use the grant funds for … the following activities [among others]:

  • (5) Purchasing and deploying cool pavements to mitigate urban heat island hot spots.

  • (6) Purchasing and deploying porous pavement to mitigate flooding and stormwater runoff in—

    • (A) pedestrian-only areas; and

    • (B) areas of low-volume, low-speed vehicular use. …

(f) PRIORITY.—In awarding grants …, the Secretary shall give priority to

  • (1) proposing to carry out an activity or project in a low-income community or a disadvantaged community; …

Community Impact

The fact that this program is targeted for low-income, urban communities should be the first red flag that it really isn’t about environmentalism at all. It’s about using low-income communities as experimental grounds for politically-connected “green” businesses. Of course, manufacturers and installers of these pavements are all in. They see dollar signs in their eyes. It doesn’t matter if these pavement types are even suitable for the application. Nor does it matter if these programs offer any real environmental benefits or improvements to low income/disadvantaged communities. You see, there is government money to be made here. That’s all that matters. And what comes in return with the shelling-out of government money? Votes.

In reality, I foresee this program being used to tear up perfectly good infrastructure — or even infrastructure that was poorly maintained by the government in the first place — only to unnecessarily install this new, “green” infrastructure. These “lucky” neighborhoods will now be rife with construction disruption. And how much unnecessary pollution and carbon output will this construction generate?

Los Angeles dove head first into this “cool pavement” movement in attempts to fight the climate. Are you surprised? Since 2015, they have covered at least 50 city blocks in various reflective coatings with a plan to cover 250 lane-miles of city roads by 2028. An inquisitive mind might ask, “what has been the result so far?”

In 2019, Middel and Turner, a UCLA urban planner, studied the local streets by comparing the temperature readings of “cool” pavements and traditional asphalt. “Cool pavements” work by reflecting more sunlight than that absorbed by traditional pavements. So, yes, the surface temperature of a “cool pavement” will be relatively lower. Here’s the funny thing, though. The surrounding air temperatures and human comfort effects were found to be considerably worse.

“On a typical Los Angeles summer day, with a high of 88 degrees, they found the reflective roads could make people feel much hotter. Just before noon, the mean radiant temperature—a calculation of the amount of heat emitted by surrounding surfaces—was more than 7 degrees higher on the coated pavement. That temperature, which is another way of measuring human comfort, decreased as the day went on, but in the afternoon, the roads still felt more than 3 degrees warmer.

The warmer feeling, Middel says, is almost entirely attributable to solar radiation reflected off the roads. Normally, asphalt sucks it in, and it dissipates slowly into the air. These roads, however, reflected it back at a rate of 130 watts per square meter—akin to adding 10 percent more direct sunlight. That reflection was visible as glare, which was ‘really big’ in the early evening, she says, just as people were getting home from work.

You read that right. These “cool pavements” actually result in the opposite of the intended effect. To be fair, this study was based on a small sample of streets. Thus, Middle and Turner were hesitant to draw definitive conclusions on the use of “cool pavements,” noting that they didn’t study the potential positive cooling impacts at night. Well, nighttime is usually not the time of day people complain about the heat. But, whatever.

The Broken Window Fallacy

Proponents of this program will also claim that jobs will be created and, well, how can you be against that?! While this is true on the surface (no pun intended), it is a magic trick all too often played on an ignorant populace. You see, Frédéric Bastiat explained the distinction between generating wealth and employment as the broken window fallacy in his work, That Which Is Seen, and That Which Is Not Seen (an excerpt below):

“Suppose it cost six francs to repair the damage [of a broken window], and you say that the accident brings six francs to the glazier's trade — that it encourages that trade to the amount of six francs — I grant it; I have not a word to say against it; you reason justly. The glazier comes, performs his task, receives his six francs, rubs his hands, and, in his heart, blesses the careless child. All this is that which is seen.

But if, on the other hand, you come to the conclusion, as is too often the case, that it is a good thing to break windows, that it causes money to circulate, and that the encouragement of industry in general will be the result of it, you will oblige me to call out, ‘Stop there! Your theory is confined to that which is seen; it takes no account of that which is not seen.

It is not seen that as our shopkeeper has spent six francs upon one thing, he cannot spend them upon another. It is not seen that if he had not had a window to replace, he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes, or added another book to his library. In short, he would have employed his six francs in some way which this accident has prevented.

Let us take a view of industry in general, as affected by this circumstance. The window being broken, the glazier's trade is encouraged to the amount of six francs: this is that which is seen.

If the window had not been broken, the shoemaker's trade (or some other) would have been encouraged to the amount of six francs: this is that which is not seen.”

To summarize, Bastiat demonstrates that a broken window doesn’t generate any wealth for a community. On the contrary, it simply shifts existing wealth from one industry to another. The window repair obviously makes the glazier wealthier, but the community worse off. Nothing is gained. The shopkeeper ends up with the same window he started with and thus, has to forgo a new pair of shoes. So the shopkeeper loses out, the shoemaker loses out, and the glazier receives a transfer of wealth. Again, nothing is gained.

Now relate broken windows to roads. It’s obvious that wealth will not be generated by going around breaking windows. It should be equally obvious that wealth will not be generated going around coating pavement.

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