Sunday, 20 August 2006

Infrastructure: What Happens When the Bridges Collapse?

As Congress finagles over finances for this and monies for that, the bridges, roads, and other infrastructures of our country fall into disrepair. Money to fill potholes, improve railroad lines, and replace aging bridges is crossed off the books while tax cuts march in and other funds march out to wars. What happens when all of our bridges collapse, when our roads are not drivable, or when public transit, still fledgling throughout much of the country, is forgotten? We will all be in a heap of trouble. Unfortunately it seems that action is only taken following a tragedy and even then, it is often too little too late. Or in the case of the recent Amtrak crash, Congress fights over the entire system rather than attending to individual segments and the service as a whole.

Spending time in Europe I have always marveled at the transit system. I can go virtually anywhere in cities like Paris and Madrid on the Metro and arrive just a few steps from my destination. Trains operate at high speed and efficiency in most countries and again take me within a few feet of where I want to go. Now I have not studied bridges and road conditions in much of Europe but it does seem that there are crews in action almost everywhere I glance. Even when funding is tight, there is an appreciation of the infrastructure's service and its critical importance.

I remember long ago when the San Francisco Bay Area began BART the Bay Area Transit System. Market Street was a disaster for years as this huge project was completed. It is now a very handy service, however, it still has enormous gaps. If you need a half-moon bay loop BART is ideal, however the western city of San Francisco is out as are subways under the Golden Gate Bridge and connecting service in the eastern bay. With millions of commuters it seems full service, including the many airports, would be a must. But when money is gone, it is gone. The dream lives on as people continue to drive one person per car on desperately crowded roadways.

Infrastructure is essential in linking our nation together. While I get restless as I sit on blocked highways waiting for the pilot car to arrive and guide me through, I also smile knowing that because of this delay roads and bridges are safer and well maintained. Infrastructure is the framework of travel. It sets the foundation upon which we depend. I realize that many in Congress fly rather than drive or take public transit, but it seems that their job is to look after all of us, not just themselves. What do you think?