Legal Proceduralism. Of course, Europe also has some pretty nice, and pretty pricey, stuff sitting between its cities. What Europe does not have, generally speaking, is the ability to tie up the government for a few decades in eminent domain appeals, environmental reviews and so forth. For historical reasons, the U.S. legal system offers citizens an unparalleled number of veto points at which they can attempt to block government projects. Any infrastructure project bigger than painting a schoolhouse thus has to either fight out the reviews and court cases for years, or buy off the opponents, or more likely, both.
Cost. U.S. infrastructure projects cost way more to build than they do everywhere else. The right likes to blame unions; the left likes to blame pricey consultants. But they’re all arguing about the symptom rather than the disease. The reason U.S. transportation infrastructure costs so much is all the stuff I listed above, plus a healthy dose of federalism.
Read any essay bemoaning the cost of American infrastructure — say Brian Rosenthal’s 2017 behemoth for the New York Times — and don’t just gawk at the inflated numbers; ask yourself why U.S. infrastructure projects use so many consultants, so many union featherbedders and so on.
Answer: They are there to fend off future lawsuits, or to smooth compliance with some other level of government’s regulatory bodies, or to appease some powerful lobby. And because these infrastructure projects involve so many different governments, none of whom has final authority over the project, there are a lot of lobbies that must be appeased.