Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Post-Election Travel Wishlist

Now that the dust is settling, sort of, from the U.S. mid-term elections, could we talk?

We need to talk about what resident Americans and international visitors alike need in ample measure: Transport infrastructure and a travel security system that work. Getting these things from a polity that is so fractured and self-righteously angry will not be easy. But the country that once had the finest travel infrastructure in the world is going to have to retool and rebuild if we want to get ourselves and our products from one place to another safely and in good time.

Politicians of all stripes always say they want to heal not divide and create jobs not destroy them. Transport is a good place to start doing these things. It is not as controversial as hot-button social issues and, as noted, transport upgrades are badly needed.

Yes, it will require raising revenue and spending some of it. But it will also pay for itself, as Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower understood back in the 1950s, when he authorized construction of the interstate highway system and generated thousands of construction jobs and countless more business opportunities for vendors and suppliers.

So, here is a shortlist of badly needed projects:

Highways. Ike's dream network needs to be repaired. After 50-plus years of use in some spots, it is in decidedly bad shape. I have seen much better highways in places as far-flung as Malaysia, South Africa and Spain. A stretch of interstate near my home in California that was supposed to be repaved in 2009 has still not been touched. Rutted, cracked and badly patched, it is in even worse condition now than it was in '09. Nearly everyone in car-crazy America drives on these roads.

Rail. We need improved and expanded passenger railroads, high-speed and otherwise, to take people out of cars, ease congestion in airports and be kinder to the environment. Japan, China, France, Taiwan, Germany and other countries show America it can be done.

Air travel. We need the long-promised next generation of air traffic control at U.S. airports. We are lucky there haven't been more fatal accidents brought on in part by antiquated, radar-based and over-extended systems. We need a GPS-based Next Gen system that will bring the world's largest aviation market into the 21st century.

While we are at it, could we have a sane, balanced air travel security system? I mean, employ the latest in technology - isn't the U.S. supposed to be a leader in tech? - and combine that with rational screening and, yes, a passenger profiling system built with a variety of criteria. Someone in addition to Caucasian grandmothers needs to be pulled over in airport security lines from time to time. Americans have a laudable desire not to scapegoat entire races and religions and envelop all their members in a cloud of suspicion. This is good, but people need to understand that political correctness and bending over backwards so as not to offend must give way to a more common-sense approach. Americans seem horribly afraid to offend people - including people who are trying to kill them.

Given the gridlock in Washington these days, it may be hard to get any part of this list put into play. But we can hope, right?

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