The recession may last two years. That would make it the worst since World War II. It might last four years, which would be epochal. By contrast, optimistically a high-speed rail system takes two or three times as long to get from gleam in the eye to operational. If you want to maximize dollars' impact on the recession, that's too slow. Even a 'shovel-ready' project could take a decade. Twenty billion spent over ten years is not as good as $5 billion spent over two years, say for teachers' aides, hospital orderlies, Pell grants, pothole fillers, and broadband installers.
By and large, the stimulus impact of new money for big infrastructure projects is limited to architects, engineers, economists, environmental activists, consultants, and lawyers wrangling over plans. Lumberjacks too, considering the trees that are sacrificed for the cause.
The other point typically glossed over is that public investment will be channeled through state governments, and they will have their own ideas about what to do with the money.
Another liberal argues that investing in light-rail transit will yield high returns:
In terms of job creation, mass transit is one of the best investments that can be made. A study by Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier of the University of Massachusetts shows that investment in public transit creates more jobs per dollar than spending for defense, tax cuts, health care, education, and home weatherization. This analysis shows that transit investments create 19 percent more jobs than new road construction.
Additionally, investments in transit – specifically fixed-rail transit – increase property values, especially if land use policies for the areas near transit stations allow for higher density uses. Transit systems also increase a region’s competitiveness in terms of attracting businesses and workers. It’s no surprise that one of the biggest advocates for the new light rail system in Charlotte, NC was the city’s chamber of commerce.