Reposted from Daily Kos by boatsie
Editor's Note: proposal for green energy ... -- boatsie
“This is the 21st century, but our transportation systems are stuck in the 20th. One of four bridges in the U.S. is structurally deficient or obsolete, more than half the miles we drive on federal highways are on roads in less than good condition and our transit systems are stretched beyond capacity. This is a recipe for falling behind, not competing in the global economy. We can put men and women back to work building America, get our economy on track and leave behind real assets for taxpayers and future generations.”
—Terry O’Sullivan, General President of the Laborers’ International Union of North America.
America’s infrastructure suffers from decades of reckless neglect, what bureaucrats and policymakers conceal behind the euphemism of “deferred maintenance.” Decrepit describes the consequences. Myopic describes the attitude. This affects many realms—our public schools, our public health system, our electrical transmission grid and, despite how deeply we Americans treasure personal mobility, our transportation system.
Interstate 35 bridge over the Mississippi River
in Minneapolis collapsed in August 2007.
(Photo by Kevin Rofidal, United States Coast Guard)
This crumbling of infrastructure has been met over the years with a certain amount of cognitive dissonance. Even though all the infrastructure in the aforementioned areas is crucial to a thriving existence in the modern age, it has been treated as if it doesn’t really matter, insubstantially patched up or simply left to rot. That's been as much the case with transportation as elsewhere.
Occasionally, as happened in 2007 just a few miles from where Netroots Nation is just finishing its sixth annual convention, a bridge will fall down, a few people will die or be maimed, and everyone will ask what could have gone wrong. In this particular case, it was the inevitable result of having 75,000 U.S. bridges in the “structurally deficient” category. The problem is everywhere. In California cars are a sacred birthright, yet the state contains seven of the 20 U.S. cities with the worst major roads and highways.
But our transportation infrastructure is not merely plagued with antique equipment and battered pavement. Shaky old ideas predominate as well. In spite of the obvious purpose of transportation—connecting human beings, goods and services—we have allowed inefficiency, gridlock, lethal pollution and fiscal insustainability to rule the day.
According to one study, the average commuter was delayed a total of 34 hours in traffic in 2009, one full week of work. Inflation-adjusted congestion costs rose from $24 billion in 1982 to $115 billion in 2009. Wasted fuel from congestion hit 3.9 billion gallons—equal to 130 days of flow in the Alaska Pipeline. About half of Americans have no alternative to travel by automobile and no reasonable access to public transit. Like our roads and bridges, that public transit has been subjected to decades of deferred maintenance that would take $77 billion just bring into good working order.
Fixes matter. Decaying bridges can't be ignored. But too much of our attention in transportation is devoted to repairing and not enough to rethinking. Important improvements are being made. For example, light rail, a system prevalent in many cities in the days before the internal combustion engine reshaped our lives, is making a comeback a few urban miles at a time. But this is a small effort, piecemeal and underfunded. Vehicle drive-trains are being revamped, but ever so slowly.
Meanwhile, our major modes of transportation poison us, burn two-thirds of the oil we drill at home and import from abroad, make us less secure because of the geopolitics involved in maintaining access to much of that oil, gobble up a scarce resource essential for making other products, extract large hunks of household income and contribute a third of the CO2
we’re loading into the atmosphere.
Rethinking transportation means rethinking zoning and other aspects of how we build our cities and develop the land in between. It demands a hard look at subsidies that promote particular modes of transportation to the exclusion of others and broadening the definition of what a subsidy is. Rethinking transportation requires rethinking the currently inadequate public revenue streams that pay for most of its infrastructure. And, obviously, it means extricating ourselves from dependence on fossil fuel, not just the imported stuff but what we take out of the ground within our own borders and from beneath the continental shelves.
The good news is that rethinking and subsequently enacting policies for remaking our transportation system can spur us to build more bike- and pedestrian-friendly cities, make our vehicles efficient, cut pollution, lower CO2 emissions, reduce the size of our military budget, boost the use of alternative fuels (including renewably generated electricity), decrease congestion and help restore America’s manufacturing base, which, in turn, will supply millions of badly needed, high-quality jobs. The bad news is that there is stubborn opposition, local and national, to all of this.