Saturday, May 21, 2011


by Madeleine Kando

I just returned from The Netherlands, which usually causes me to go through ‘road-shock’. The roads are so unblemished over there that falling asleep at the wheel is the highest hazard of driving. I had gotten used to the smooth asphalt of the Dutch highways.

On my drive back home from Logan Airport it felt like our car had entered a giant pinball machine. We were dodging potholes and cracks left and right, while trying to maintain an appropriate speed. Many of the signs had pieces missing and the lettering had peeled off which makes it hard to know where you are. But when I saw the familiar ‘No -assing’ sign on Lexington Street I knew I was home.

I remember a time when the American highway system was the envy of the world. I used to watch Hollywood car-chase movies in my small Amsterdam apartment with areal views of the typical four-leaf clover and six-story highway exchanges. It was still a sight to behold, a symbol of what American engineering could accomplish.

Since then, American roads and byways have turned into one of this country's worst nightmares. Being rated number one in the 1960's, America now ranks 23rd in quality of road infrastructure, somewhere between Spain and Chile.

The question is why? Why is America's transportation system so bad? Doesn't the sheer size of the US call exactly for that kind of investment?

For the past 30 years America's roads and bridges have been left to rot while smarter nations have been building, improving and maintaining their roads, bridges and canals. Since the 1970’s America has gone from spending 5% of GDP on infrastructure to only 2.4%. China spends 9% of GDP.

Although we complain about gas prices being so high, Europeans pay much higher taxes on cars and gasoline. Funding for transportation projects comes from the European Investment Bank, a non-profit organization whose shareholders are the member states. This allows the different EU countries to get cheap loans for their projects. The Kerry/Hutchison plan tries to create a similar funding apparatus and hopefully will pass the house. But I am not hopeful. Simply put, Americans are not willing to pay for an improved road infrastructure.

Compared to many other nations, high-speed trains are practically non-existent in the United States. China, which is about the same size as the United States is spending $50 billion this year alone on a speed train system that will travel at 220 mph. Compare that to the $8 billion that Obama proposed which, of course, went nowhere. The current infrastructure would not even permit bullet trains to go at fast speeds over bridges and through tunnels that are currently in such need of repair.

Another very obvious reason why our infrastructure is crumbling is the way projects are run these days. It took a little more than one year to build the Empire State building and only four years to build the entire Golden Gate Bridge. Compare that to the little overpass over interstate 95 in Waltham which has been under consruction since 2004 and still isn't completed.

What happened to the America that I admire? The innovative and efficient nation that everybody else looked up to? Bickering continues in Washington and there is a clear lack of vision. Like an old woman sloshing around the house in her slippers and robe, America doesn’t bother to take care of herself any more. She lets herself go. Future generations be damned.

Some of this information is found in an article in the Economist of April 28th, 'Life in the Fast Lane'
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