Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bad idea long-term

Florida's governor joins other GOP state governors in rejecting US funds to build a high-speed rail line. It was hardly unexpected. Maybe if time permits, I'll give a more detailed response. For now, just a few brief observations. Clearly, this will hurt the job market in Florida in the near term. Major infrastructure projects put larges numbers of people to work, which in a stagnant economy would, to rational people, be a good thing. The project itself was not particularly remarkable. Yes, the distance to Tampa from Orlando is relatively short, and could be driven in less than an hour and a half. However, that project was to set the foundation for a more significant route to Miami, which would have been very beneficial - it's a difficult drive, and the thought of air flight in between those cities is horrifying when one considers the gross waste of fossil fuels involved.

High speed rail lines have been available in the rest of the developed world for quite some time. Given the relative minimal use of energy to run, and the speeds at which these trains can operate, they seem like a sensible solution for medium and long-distance travel. As a nation that has and will continue to be dependent on imports of oil from far flung corners of the world, investments in new infrastructure designed to minimize that dependency would seem like a no-brainer. Such projects require enormous front-end costs (which in the case of the one the Florida governor passed up on would be largely shouldered by the US government), but over the long haul will more than pay for themselves - especially once the reality that the sun is truly setting on our happy motoring lifestyle sinks in (and that reality will set in within the next decade or two if we want to be optimistic).

Increasingly, I'm envisioning what the future will be like as I near retirement. In that future, it strikes me as likely that rather than a coherent national travel infrastructure (which is already crumbling, and will be getting worse with further neglect), we'll see a patchwork of regions in which travel and trade are relatively easy and other regions in which we'll just say that travel will be more of a challenge. If I had to make a guess, the West Coast region - for all its short-term economic problems and its medium to long term water table problems (mainly in the more arid portions) will be one of the better places to be if one still wants the trappings of civilization, as will parts of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic (sans New Jersey) and perhaps parts of the Midwest. As for the rest, I have to wonder. Do we really want to continue to pin our future on the notion that the dependence on gasoline and diesel power vehicles, and air flights will continue to be feasible? Is it realistic to expect that the road ways and freeways will be in the same or better shape 20 or 30 years hence? Will we still be able to import the quantities of fossil fuels required to maintain the existing infrastructure, and to power all of those vehicles 20 or 30 years hence? Are policy makers even capable of at least having a Plan B if those oil spigots do get turned off?

A couple weeks ago, in correspondence with an old friend, I was discussing my travels. One of the things I told that friend was that I would continue to make the trips I so enjoy for as long as the roads continued to be passable. In that statement is an observation and a prediction: the roads are not quite what they used to be (I ought to know since I have been on them an awful lot over the last couple decades), and I can envision a day when they won't be at some point in my lifetime. Just as I can envision a point at which the cost of such travel would be prohibitive regardless (the summer of 2008 provided a taste of that). Perhaps that's not a typical American thought. The optimistic side of me acknowledges that there are technological fixes that will ease us into an era of expensive energy (other nations seem to be doing so), but the more pessimistic side doubts that the political will to put into place the type of infrastructure needed for the upcoming era - the fact that Obama's rather meek efforts with high speed rail travel have met with such stiff resistance in some regions of the US does not bode well for the future.

1 comment:

Don Durito said...

Hey! Ditch the Jersey-hate, prairie boy! :-P

If you think growing up as I did in a semi-rural town on a lot with a backyard big enough for a ball field plus a couple of acres of woods and field and never being more than 5 miles from the ocean is a bad thing, then I ain't the one who grew up deprived.

Truthfully, NJ is one of the more civilized places I've lived - not that its government always is.

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