In my last post, I returned to a topic I’d set aside in the past couple of years: transportation. The topic is just as vital as ever, and contributions from a few other prominent writers suggest that we might want to consider the issue with renewed purpose and awareness.  

Bill Chameides, the current Dean of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and a member of the National Academy of Sciences (so let’s assume he knows a little about this subject) penned a nice summary earlier this year about some of the current challenges our transportation system faces. Since it does not exist in a void, it’s safe to say that if there are challenges within the transportation system, we have issues, too.

What kind of a nation do we choose to be? The question is not just a philosophical one, nor is it limited to the dynamics of political/ideological debate. Tangibly, what do we see for ourselves and our children in the years ahead. Is it better to just blithely ignore the greater issues hanging over us and make do with what we have each day, or can we finally, collectively decide that what needs to be addressed now to pave the way for fulfilling our hopes for a better future must in fact now be addressed?

The more complex our society becomes, the further away we move from meaningful, broad-based and broadly satisfactory solutions. But that doesn’t mean they should all be ignored or punted on just because they are increasingly difficult. Waiting until … won’t make things any better or easier.

If Congress doesn’t change the policies that fund our roadways in response, we may be in for a bumpy ride on our highways and byways. Gridlock in the vaunted halls of Congress may make commuting gridlock all the more common.
A Failing System
You’d think our country, as proud as we are of innovation, would be smart when our ways become outmoded. Not so much. While Americans seem ever eager to get the latest iPhone  — and some even jones for the latest-greatest souped-up electric car — we seem behind the curve when it comes to basic upkeep. Fixing old things to make sure they continue to function properly? Just not as sexy. (links in the original)

Energy supply issues affect us now and will more so in the years ahead. The maintenance Mr. Chameides speaks of requires energy and money—lots of each. We can just toss those atop the ever-growing pile of similar demands. So many, where to begin?

Referencing information from the New York Times, he noted that more than 10% of our nation’s bridges are considered “structurally deficient.” A third of those are “fracture critical,”  risking total collapse on the failure of a single critical component. He then adds:

Unfortunately it’s not just bridges. It’s roads and rail lines and public transit too. There are lots of cracks but far too few fixes.

Given our near-total dependence on all forms of transportation to conduct our personal and commercial lives as we do, and recognizing the risks of climate change’s impact as well as the challenges posed by a depleting, finite energy supply which can only be sustained with monumental effort and investment, isn’t now a good time to actually set aside the idiotic public disputes centered on abstract philosophical differences and start doing something before we have no choice—and fewer options?

Everyone is waiting for someone else to could up with a solution or two that is ideologically gratifying for all, inexpensive, simple, quick. Perhaps in another world that’s an option. Not here. So do we continue to fight the great ideological battles while ignoring the realities of our energy needs and how they will be met, or do the adults in the leadership room grow spines and lead us where we have to go?

[I]f our transportation infrastructure is to get the funds it and we sorely need, significantly more dollars need to flow into and out of the Highway Trust Fund. And to avoid adding to deficits, that will mean raising taxes.
So the conundrum. Raise taxes or have a nation with crumbling bridges and roads.

That’s just one of many such conundrums. Compromise cannot continue to be the four-letter word it’s become, and denying we have a climate change problem or energy supply concerns need to get tossed out of the tactic and strategy playback as well.

We’ve wasted enough time and psychic energy as it is. The future beckons. Let’s all do our part to shape it as best we can, or let it shape us. That’s a choice.

~ My Photo: on the grounds of Atlantis in the Bahamas – 02.02.08


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