Any of you True Believers who, like yr. obdt., have spent a lot of time on our nation’s highways will understand this piece. Excerpt:
America badly needs more highway capacity. Our interstate system was built in the 1960s and 1970s for a nation of 200 million with a $1 trillion economy. Today the United States has a population of 325 million and a $19 trillion economy. We are a much bigger nation with a much bigger economy. Our transportation infrastructure hasn’t kept up.
This isn’t a problem that can be solved with more bike lanes, carpooling, or public transit, even with ample funding and goodwill. Over the last quarter-century, federal and state governments have invested heavily in adding carpool lanes, and about 20 percent of federal Highway Trust Fund money is diverted to public transit. Yet single-driver highway travel remains dominant and indispensable. As Robert Poole Jr., a transportation scholar at the Reason Foundation, points out, outside of six “legacy-transit” cities (Boston, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, and San Francisco), only about 5 percent of daily commuting in America is by transit.
“People continue to travel on urban freeways because using them is less bad than the alternatives,” Poole writes in his new book, Rethinking America’s Highways. There is no prospect of that changing. For entirely respectable reasons, Americans prefer to drive on highways. Public policy should be aimed at facilitating that preference, not thwarting it.
Readers of these virtual pages will remember that Mrs. Animal and I spent most of last year in the loony environs of Californey’s Bay Area, which is one of the worst places in the world for driving; now this year finds us in New Jersey, which may be even worse. But the article makes a good point; our highway system is badly out of date, not just in its design but also in its upkeep.
Take speed limits. Most, if not all, of the speed limits in this country were set using assumptions developed in the 1950s and 1960s. Highways are safer now, and vehicles are vastly safer; but we still are stuck with outmoded speed limits. A few years back I had occasion to drive Interstate 80 in western Wyoming; assuming your vehicle’s alignment was in order, you could probably fall asleep in Rawlins and wake up in Ft. Bridger, still between the ditches. If there was ever country (and a highway) suited for 100+ mph speeds, this is it. But Wyoming keeps it at 80, at least in part, one suspects, to generate revenue.
At least we’ve done away with the Imperial 55mph mandate.
There are all kinds of ways we could update and improve the nation’s highways. Now that we have a guy in the Imperial Mansion who has actually overseen the building of things, maybe we’ll see some movement on getting the Interstate system in order; the rest is, as it should be, up to the several States.