The great highway program (Fortune)
This is actually a classic story reprinted from Fortune magazine in 1958. It’s a look at the nascent interstate highway system and the implications of such a massive undertaking. Unlike today’s political environment, where infrastructure projects are routinely politicized and deeply debated (see high-speed rail), the interstate highway program was welcomed “without partisan dispute.” In fact, the purpose of the Fortune article was to serve as a reminder for Americans that despite the promise of a national highway system there were many potential issues that should be examined. And with psychic precision the article nails the consequence of the interstates that still plague us today: neighborhoods isolated due to highway construction (“they [highway deparments] prefer to tear up slums where possible”), traffic accidents and deaths (“new highways will be safer than conventional roads, but not safe enough”) and perhaps most importantly, the increase in congestion due to the massive shift in living patterns (“the road system may bring about a redistribution of population that will induce still more road use”). Now, over 50 years later, we can ask ourselves: was it worth it?
Pros and Cons in the Amtrak Privatization Debate (The Infrastructurist)
We haven’t covered this much, but John Mica, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, wants to privatize Amtrak. You see, Amtrak is taxpayer funded but its Northeast Corridor lines are actually profitable and help subsidize the rest of the system. Mica thinks that by letting the private sector control the Northeast Corridor, service will be improved and taxpayers will save. The Infrastructurist takes a look at the pros and cons of privatizing Amtrak. It’s also worth noting that Mica’s plan is probably dead on arrival, but is fodder for good discussion.
Bill Ford, executive chairman of the Ford Motor Company, writes about “global gridlock” and what can be done to stop it. Global gridlock is the idea that as developing countries become more affluent, their citizens will begin to drive more and in turn traffic (and pollution) will get worse globally. By 2050 there could be 2-4 billion cars on the world’s roads, essentially make planet earth one big parking lot. So what does Henry Ford’s great-grandson think the solution is? Amazingly, his answer isn’t just “buy a Ford.” He concedes that improved mass transit (including dedicated bus lanes) is needed. On the private mobility front he believes that technology is the answer: intelligent cars that talk to each other, apps that find open parking spaces and even driverless vehicles.