We do a lot of things in this country that make no damn sense. It’s a shame that the way we spend money is one of them.

Like most nations, we are funded by taxpayers. As such, it’s nice to see our money spent responsibly every now and then. Now, no one’s ever going to do that, but it would be a real treat if it happened maybe a couple of times a year, especially towards things which benefit everyone, like mass transit.

This is particularly frustrating given that other countries don’t seem to have nearly as much trouble, argues Stephen Smith in a recent Bloomberg editorial.

It’s old hat when discussing the MTA, as the Second Avenue subway line and the whole Moynihan Station mess have kept the problems with how the MTA functions and contracts business for infrastructure development. But it’s not exclusive to New York. Amtrak has talked about a high speed rail line for years, but the one we’ll actually get won’t be as cool as the one we could have gotten. Money’s the reason.

Money is also the reason California can’t seem to get new mass transit projects out of the planning stage, since state officials “can’t keep their private contractors in check. Starved of funds and expertise for in-house planning, officials contract out the project management and early design concepts to private companies that have little incentive to keep costs down and quality up,” writes Smith.

Compare that all to another country, like Spain, and all the things that officials explicitly set out not to do “reads like a winning U.S. transit-construction bingo card.”

Perhaps the most ostentatious violation of Melis’s manual of best practices is expensive architecture in stations. “Design should be focused on the needs of the users,” he wrote, “rather than on architectural beauty or exotic materials, and never on the name of the architect.”

American politicians have different priorities. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is spending $3.8 billion on a single subway station at the World Trade Center designed by Santiago Calatrava, a Spanish architect known for his costly projects. If New York could build subways at the prices that Paris and Tokyo pay, $3.8 billion would be enough to build the entire Second Avenue subway, from Harlem to the Financial District.

In short, this is why we should just make space elevators instead.

(Photo: kenzlest photo./Flickr)