Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Race America Doesn't Want to Win.

America is in a race, she just doesn't know it. It's a race to see where America will be in twenty years. It's a race against herself...and currently she's losing. It's a transportation race, and right now the question that every Americans needs to be asking is--when will America wake up, pick up the pace and start running again?

You probably have noticed that there are transportation problems in this country: Congestion in LA is a horrendous nightmare. Road rage is out of control in Miami. Bridges in Minneapolis are collapsing. And New York City is charging you a fee if you drive into the city (though this is a good thing, I swear). Point is, America knows she has problems with her transportation networks, she just doesn't care. AMTRAK is so poorly underfunded and has been since it became nationalized in 1971. The Government gives the Federally owned AMTRAK less than $1 Billion per year; our friends in congress give the private flying industry over $14 Billion per year. Something is wrong with that, isn't it?

Fortunately, things are changing. Two bills have been proposed and passed: HR 6003 and S. 294. Both bills have passed with a veto-proof majority, meaning that although Mr. George W. Bush has threatened to can the project, he won't be able to. Currently the bill is going into conference committee, which is the last step before Dubya signs it--which he will, and must. These bills effectively shell out $14 Billion for new transportation mediums. One of the recipients will be right here at home, The Ohio Hub Project.

This project will give birth to the dreams of many homegrown Ohioans--a high-speed rail that travels through all the big C's: Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland. Did you ever hear your grandparents talking about this one? (I know I have. They'd be sitting with the family, starry-eyed, dreaming of how glamorous and romantic it could be to just take the train from Cleveland to Columbus.) The plan will be to connect Ohio to already existing rails, going as far north as Ontario and as south as Southern Indiana. The proposal is for high-speed, 110 MPH trains that would make it possible to go from Cincy to Cleveland in 2.5 hours. By connecting the other rail lines in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan, it would be possible to get from Columbus to Chicago in 4 hours, from Pittsburgh to Indianapolis in 3.5 hours, and from Cleveland to Detroit in less than 2 hours. (Though this connectivity is part of a later phase).

Why is it so important that we switch to rail? The environmental impact of our cars is certainly nothing to sweep under the rug, but if self-interest is what sways your opinion, than consider that high-speed rail is safer than flying, easier than driving, cheaper than any alternative and is a perfect travel option for citycenter-to-citycenter business travel. Also, since 30% of flights don't leave on time, an efficient and brand new rail line will be a hell of a lot more reliable than the failing airline industry.

The options are this--expand the highways, expand the runways or expand the railways. We are a growing country and we're projected to have 404 million people by 2050; what are we gonna do with all of those people? How are we going to move them around? Certainly we've seen the failures of trying to run a country with "everyone has at least 1 car" city planning, and it's blown up in our face: we've had more people die on our highways than we have in all of our wars--combined. Our country cannot continue to function like this. Support high-speed rail and any initiative that promotes improving transportation options. We cannot continue running in a race we admittedly would like to lose.