Wednesday, February 08, 2006


If you live in the Northeast corridor, as I do, trucks are the bane of your commute. This is true in a lot of other places, too, but give the population density here I tend to think our ring of hell is a bit "deeper" than others. There's no denying that other urban areas are just as bad - just not as large.

Most of the fatalities on the highway I drive on are caused by trucks. They provide either the impetus for the accident or the "lethal mass," or both. They crawl up hills, forcing cars to jam in behind them, or they careen down the other side, forcing drivers to hold their breath when they see that massive grill coming up on them. And don't say "well, just pull over." The cars can't - they are in gridlock caused by *other* trucks, just up ahead, that won't let the cars pass.

And it is exceedingly rare to have the highway closed by an autos-only accident, whereas semi-trailers routinely shut the whole system down.

Yes, I sure do love trucks.

As cities continue to become less and less relevant to the American Worker (that will be another blog), the commute becomes more and more relevant. The lifeblood of the US Economy is found on the highways - both electronic and paved - that cross our land.

And, to nobody's surprise, our politicians don't have a clue. To them, it's an issue of "keep our bridges from falling down," which completely misses the point.

America doesn't need the old infrastructure repaired and maintained; it needs a new infrastructure. It needs an infrastructure that reflects the economic needs and realities of the twenty first century.

In an age when people commute from suburban neighborhoods into suburban offices, which is not only the norm, but a continuing trend, public transportation simply doesn't work. The logistics can't be made practical. So what *should* we do?
1. Skew the tax structure to grossly favor rail transportation over trucking for any trip over 100 miles, and any trip into a major metro area. For the most part, trucks should be used only for local deliveries to/from the train depot.
2. In general I am dead-set against job programs, but there's no denying that they are here to stay. If we're going to pour federal and state dollars into jobs programs and such, perhaps we can funnel some of that money into expanding the rail system to accomodate this? We won't only need new rail lines, we'll need modern depots that allow rapid loading and unloading of containers. Rail-heads should be viewed like airports and seaports - public works. Unlike make-work situations, this public work will actually add value to the US Economy.
3. Take the same labor force and have them build truck-only roads into and out of every major metro area, going at least 50 miles out. Even with a dramatically expanded rail system, semi's are here to stay. Let's get them away from the commuters, and onto their own roads. Why is it that we stopped building highways in the 1960's? Our population has tripled, and our roads have barely grown. What, was Ike the only person who saw the critical nature of having enough roads to grow an economy on? Semi-trailers have no business being on the same road as cars at any speed over 40 MPH. Segregate them. You'll save lives, you'll save time, you'll save fuel, and you'll boost the economy.
4. Instead of having Detroit fritter time on Hydrogen cars (see my post "Wanna buy an H?"), perhaps we can incent them to develop "smart cars," "smart roads," "highway caravans," or some other such game-changing technologies? If you want to beat Japan, this is the kind of innovation it will take. Give me a road and/or car with enough intelligence to allow me to join a caravan of other cars, take my hands off the wheel, and enjoy a computer controlled ride until my exit. Let the computer set the pace such that I get there on-time, and yet we use as little fuel as possible. I'm not talking about robot cars or science fiction, I'm talking about one of several ideas that are already being discussed. No company in the world has the money to do this alone - it will be a public work, and it should start in suburban NYC, NJ, Boston, DC, LA, and other areas of commuting hell.

You want to fix the health care crisis in this country? Boost the economy to the point where medical costs aren't a problem. You want to address the Social Security crisis? Same answer - give the post-boomers an economy that can handle the load. You want to give people welfare, or do you want to teach them to build things like roads, bridges, rail depots, etc.?

My fear is that this dream of mine is a foolish nirvana, because people like Ike don't exist anymore. Ike built roads, without breaking the taxpayers back. These days people like Teddy Kennedy and John Kerry build things like the "Big Dig," and bankrupt us.


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