The PEP approach is typically the easiest, quickest, least risky and, in the short term, most-economical way to address pressing problems of the moment. Also PEP is often the only politically and financially viable approach. But by focusing ad hoc on building or fixing only one small piece of a larger, more complex system — by oiling only the squeaky wheel — the future quality, performance and benefits of the system as a whole may be seriously compromised.
PEP characterizes much of how we finance, build and operate America’s public infrastructure: roads and bridges, railways, utilities, parks and schools.
Nothing exemplifies PEP more than deferred road maintenance. Paved streets, long in need of repaving, are instead patched pothole by pothole, or they are repaved only a few blocks at a time or not at all. The physically worst, most-unsafe conditions should receive highest remediation priority, yet remediation so often seems to be undertaken randomly, if at all.
Who knows why one stretch of road gets a makeover while others don’t? And does it make sense to widen or add more lanes to some roads when existing lanes on many other roads are in poor condition? If there is a logical, overall roadway system remediation master plan, it remains a mystery.
Railway “Band-Aids” are constantly being applied to keep the nation’s rail lines functional. Passengers must wonder how often the bumpy railroad gets fixed between Washington, New York and Boston, an Amtrak line for which a new rail bed is clearly needed. Investment in innovative rail technologies may never occur because so much money is instead spent annually making piecemeal repairs to aging railway sections.
This piecemeal approach, long the modus operandi of WMATA, is hampering Metro.
Start with the politically expedient, short-sighted decision decades ago not to include Georgetown in laying out the Metro network. This was followed by years of deferred maintenance, during which, because of funding limitations, only the squeakiest wheels, quite literally, were oiled. The result is painfully evident: scores of escalators and elevators out of service; poor, uneven station lighting due to burnt-out light fixtures; railcars in need of refurbishing or replacement; and incessant track repairs generating chronic service disruptions.