Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Americans' Interest Is a Roadblock in Transportation Reform

By Lucas BergerPublished October 31, 2013

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We have all, at one time or another, bemoaned the fact that traveling such an essential part of our daily lives, is so difficult. What is strange, however, is that our complaints usually end with us slamming our horns and yelling at no one in particular. If you were to ask the average American what issues they think the government needs to take care of transportation would probably be very low on that list. Why is this the case?
By Lucas Berger, Published 10/31/13


Most Americans travel everyday: to work, school, across the country, and it is a huge part of everyday lives. But at it's core, getting from one place to another is a hassle. There are few things more frustrating than inching towards your destination, and waiting as miles that could usually be traversed in minutes turn into hour-long journeys. The worst part about it is that in many cases the culprit for these hours lost seem so avoidable. Sure some traffic is simply due to an unusually high amount of drivers being on the roads, but how many times is that really the issue? In so many instances its inexplicable merges, roadways that are either outdated or much to small, and of course the most dreaded of all; construction sites, which never seems to be places where much 'constructing' takes place (at least when I drive by), and take years to complete.

            We have all, at one time or another, bemoaned the fact that traveling such an essential part of our daily lives, is so difficult. What is strange, however, is that our complaints usually end with us slamming our horns and yelling at no one in particular. If you were to ask the average American what issues they think the government needs to take care of transportation would probably be very low on that list. Why is this the case? Countless arguments have taken place over whether or not the minimum wage should be raised but almost none over why it takes twice as long as it should to get to the job where those wages are being earned. It seems that people have just come to accept that traveling is difficult, and there is little that can be done to make it better, that and we should be thankful because there are so many countries where it is much worse. The problem is that those rationales simply are not true.

For years the US infrastructure has been deteriorating at an alarming rate. The World Economic Forum's top 10 countries in terms of infrastructure quality and investment no longer includes the United States, and things are only getting worse. For a country of our wealth and prestige that is simply unacceptable.  Our problems are mostly caused by the way we approach funding for our infrastructure. The current strategy is so short sighted that it is similar to using your finger to plug the hole in a dam. The problem is that this leads to more holes and you only have so many fingers. The budgets for maintaining our transportation systems on both the state and national levels is so small and spread so thin that we are only able to do the bare minimum, if that, to keep our roads, airways, and even waterways operating properly never mind actually improving them.

America needs to reevaluate its stance on transportation. It is simply too important to both our citizens and businesses to be something that we cut corners on and even worse asses at the last possible moment. At present it seems like some members of the government realize this, as a transportation bill is already being put together in Congress that would increase spending on infrastructure compared to the current legislation, which is set to expire next year. As refreshing as it is to see lawmakers attempting to address the problem without public pressure, this is not enough. In fact more government involvement may be the last thing that we need. Perhaps its time we give the responsibility of maintaining our roadways to private companies, who will be more diligent in their work and would probably cut costs long term. In turn government could focus more on where we need to do the most work. In my opinion any solution starts with repairing that which is broken, and than deciding where new projects could do the most good, but there are definitively a number of ways to approach the problem . No matter what the plan people need to get behind improving transportation. At this point the public has not made it clear where they stand, and if solutions are not found soon what is now an annoyance could turn into a major issue that costs people thousands and companies millions.