Thursday, July 21, 2011

It’s not too late to right the ship

In a not-so-distant past, our energy was cheap, fuel and leisure were somewhat affordable for the working family, prices of everyday goods were in check and, if we were fortunate enough, we saved a little.

It was during these years of prosperity that we expanded our suburbs, added to sprawl, bought big vehicles, invented long commutes, and borrowed on credit in pursuit of the American Dream.

With the economy in its current state, we’ve showed the world that we’ve been on an unsustainable path. But is it too late to right the ship? Not as long as we can adapt and learn.

Most of us have learned to scale back. Many people, including small-business owners, have had to tap into savings, eliminate frills and cut costs. Most of us are doing more with less. We’re stretching our vehicles and equipment further, we’ve pinched our pennies and we’ve taken “staycations.”

To be honest, I think society is feeling a little buyer’s remorse. And who could blame us. All we keep hearing right now is how much the government has spent and how much we should cut to square things away.

But is this the right answer for transportation?

Uncertainty and a lack of focus for transportation programs have left federal, state and local governments in so-called shortfalls.

To get the house in order, we should be building, rebuilding, strengthening and maintaining our highway and bridge network in addition to eliminating red tape and waste. All of this could be done responsibly as long as the funds aren’t raided for other purposes.

The highway network is the lifeblood of the economy and it has proven its worth. Without this crucial resource in top condition, the futility is sure to pile up.

This problem is not going to fix itself. We can pay what it’s worth to fix and maintain our system now, or we can let it deteriorate even further and take our chances down the line. Considering that the vast majority of freight moves by truck, the answer seems obvious to me.

It’s not too late to right the ship, and it starts with a long-term surface transportation bill that reinforces the very network our economy is built on.