Last week, I had the chance to attend the Washington Post’s first installment in its “America Answers” series, “Fix My Commute,” which brought together public and private representatives to discuss the transportation and infrastructure challenges facing the United States.
Speakers including former governor of Pennsylvania Ed Rendell and Vice President Joe Biden faulted a broken political system for the state of America’s infrastructure, and said that infrastructure should be a higher national priority.
Entrepreneurs including Di-Ann Eisnor of Waze and Matthew George of Bridj explained how “big data” can be used to ease congestion and make roads more efficient, while Google’s Chris Urmsun and Terrafugia’s Carl Dietrich offered high-tech fixes including driverless and flying cars.
Eschewing improvements with big price tags and questionable returns, Charles Marohne of Strong Towns argued for low-priced, common sense transportation investments. Andrew Card, Secretary of Transportation under George H. W. Bush, said that the gas tax should be replaced by charges based on vehicle weight or vehicle miles traveled.
The nation’s train infrastructure requires significant investment, and Stephen Gardner, Vice President of Northeast Corridor development at Amtrak, talked about Amtrak’s ambition to carry passengers from Washington DC to Boston in under an hour, a plan that would require dedicated tracks.
The speakers also discussed trends influencing driving and commuting behavior. What Millennials will do remains to be seen. “A bike is great when you’re 22,” Andrew Card said, “but when you’re 32 with groceries and a child, you usually revert to a car.”
Another recurring topic was government’s ability to keep up with transportation innovations. Although some claimed that the public sector is falling behind the private sector, mayors from around the country talked about their efforts to reduce congestion and improve public transportation through federal transportation grants and innovative policy approaches.