Magazine article The American Prospect
Going Nowhere Fast
TO GET AMERICA BACK ON THE RIGHT ROAD, I WISH Henry Clay's Whig Party might come back and fix the roads again. Today, we need the "internal improvements" that the Whigs promoted every bit as much as we did in the 1830s and 1840s, when Whig-controlled governments built roadways and canals.
In The History of the United States During the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison, Henry Adams makes a fuss about the roads and the rails. For Adams, America only truly became "united" as it became easier to get from place to place, from Boston to New York.
Now it's getting harder. Every week, it seems, it's taking another minute or so to get from point A to point B. Each year it's harder to get from Chicago to St. Louis or Detroit. There's no high-speed rail. It takes longer to get to the airport. In Chicago, it can now take me an hour and a half to get out to O'Hare. It's 35 minutes by bus on Addison Street, and then it's an hour on the El. The Blue Line is broken down for lack of funds and moves 10 mph in the "slow" zones. A fifth of the track is now made up of "slow" zones.
It's not just city to city but home to store. As I write at home this Saturday, it's semi-gridlock for two miles in all directions. For five minutes at a time, no one's moving. The cars pile up for blocks. Every Saturday, even in July, I might as well be snowbound. I can't get out.
I live roughly four miles from my office. If I'm lucky, it only takes me 50 minutes by mass transit to get to work.
The point is we're trapped. We can't move.
America is disuniting. Compare the U.S. to the European Union. Over there, thanks to Eurostar (the high-speed rail system), easy transit to the airports, and Ryanair, Europeans have more geographic mobility than we do. Eurostar is more important to European unity than adopting a new EU constitution. Europeans are voting in a new constitution with their feet. It's getting easier to get from Dublin to Madrid, where Irish kids commute to do start ups. Over there, from Paris up to Brussels, I puff along on air. Over here, on our dilapidated rails, I have to jolt along, in effect, by stage coach.
It seems obvious that we should invest in high-speed rail and mass transit, but we don't. …