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Can the private sector beat public transit?

A Long Island Rail Road train sits at the platform in the Brooklyn borough of New York.
Getty Images
A Long Island Rail Road train sits at the platform in the Brooklyn borough of New York.

Newsflash: America's biggest infrastructure problems are not "crumbling" roads and bridges. They are a problem to be sure, but the problem is being over hyped by supporters of inflated government spending so their constituencies, including construction companies, unions, and road supply manufacturers, can cash in on new government taxes and spending.

The real problem is that even when our roads, bridges, and tunnels are in good repair they still don't serve us well. Ever notice how traffic slowdowns and accidents tend to happen in the same exact spots every day? Ever notice how when new roads are built they never really relieve congestion, they just cause more of it? Ever notice that no matter how vital our mass transit systems are to our local economies, most public spending focuses on roads and everything else for passenger automobiles? And ever notice that our transportation infrastructure literally forces the largest number of people to squeeze into the smallest possible space every work day and all at the same time?

Congratulations, if you recognize all these things you probably also understand that America's most serious infrastructure problem is bad planning. Highways and local roads aren't planned with the big transportation picture in mind and never really were. Cars, and accommodating cars, is the priority even as car safety still takes a backseat to expansion. The list goes on and on, but focusing on the bad physical state of our infrastructure really is an example of not seeing the forest for the trees.

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The other problem is that non-car mass transit is basically the poster boy for government inefficiency and excess. Even when it's planned pretty well, like the New York City subway system, publicly run mass transit is still racked with overspending, maintenance delays, and the general lack of decent customer service that plagues almost every corner of the public sector. But cost is the biggest problem. It's not uncommon to see a 1,000% difference between the originally announced cost and the actual price for the most vital projects.

Thankfully, mass transit doesn't have to be public transit. That's been the case in Japan, where the mega city and its environs' massive population of 35 million is served extremely well by privately owned and operated subways and light rails. And it could soon be the case right here in the United States. Earlier this week, a company called All Aboard Florida unveiled more details of the Miami-to-Orlando rail route it plans to have up and running in just over a year. New station and track construction began late last year. The railroad will run 16 round trip trains a day between Miami and Orlando, with stops in Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach in between. It also promises to go from one end to the other, a 235-mile route, in about three hours. For those of you doing the math, you'd have to go a steady 80 miles an hour on I-95 without stopping to beat that train. Good luck with that.

There are a lot reasons why this project is so vital, not only for the future of the nation's infrastructure and transportation, but to the debate over our entire economy as well. First, it will serve as a great contrast to the growing money pit that is the government funded and run high speed rail project in California. That planned rail link is already projected to cost billions of dollars more than originally promised and faces severe environmental and engineering challenges. Second, the nation's leaders from both parties need to see an example of a privately funded American mass transit system that works. Democrats need to see it to learn a lesson about how government isn't the answer to everything. Senators Elizabeth, "you didn't build that," Warren and Bernie Sanders are essentially the target audience. Lots of Republicans could also use a lesson in the superiority of the private sector, especially the misguided local politicians in Texas who continue to work against a similar private rail link between Dallas and Houston. And finally, the American people in general need this rail project to work to beat back the tidal wave of socialist propaganda that washes over the campaign trail, at the movies, and even their houses of worship.

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Either way, this train project deserves center stage. You just have to follow the progress of this Florida rail link if you believe the private sector is better at achieving goals, serving the public, and expanding the number of opportunities to get out of poverty. You also have to pay close attention if you strongly don't believe in any of those things. This is the metaphorical Grand Central Terminal for just about every political and economic ideology currently at odds in America.

All aboard! The economic test of a lifetime is about to leave the station. Let's see where it takes us.

Commentary by Jake Novak, supervising producer of "Power Lunch." Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.