Editorial: Independence and Infrastructure

This editorial appears in the June 27 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

As the pursuit of happiness in freight transportation and other aspects of life propels us toward the Fourth of July, a couple of milestones popped concerning our constant companion — infrastructure.

A story on p. 1 looks at the 60th anniversary of the birth of the Interstate Highway System, created when President Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act on June 29, 1956.

In 2016, June 26 was the scheduled date for the opening of the Panama Canal expansion (see story, p. 32). The 102-year-old shortcut was enlarged with a $5.25 billion construction project.

The development of almost 46,900 miles of high-capacity roads today was first sold as a Cold War necessity. Improvements in U.S. military efficiency were doubtlessly part of the benefits the nation has enjoyed, but far outstripping that were the gains in commerce and personal travel.

“A network of uniformly built roads connecting the communities to each other makes us more than a nation — it makes our states united,” said Gregory Nadeau, head of the Federal Highway Administration.

More than $10 trillion worth of freight hits the roads every year.

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.) managed to bridge their partisan divide and praise Eisenhower and the highway system.

Panama Canal Administrator Jorge Luis Quijano talked up the wisdom of his nation’s investment, saying he already has 162 reservations for crossings between now and the end of the year. He expects the big ditch to earn more than $400 million during its first 12 months of operation — even though ocean shipping is slack now.

And it’s not a racket. The expansion is supposed to save shippers $8 billion a year by offering a more efficient means of transit. More goods will move to market quicker and cheaper than before.

We wished more Americans shared Quijano’s enthusiasm for infrastructure investment. The passage of the FAST Act in December was a welcome event and certainly beats the years of chaos that preceded it, but it really wasn’t enough.

But approaching the 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, is not the time to sound like this year’s primary debates. The delegates in Independence Hall were concerned with far weightier issues, such as a British king who was “quartering large bodies of armed troops among us” and protecting his Redcoat troops “by a mock trial from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states” as well as “cutting off our trade with all parts of the world.”

We’ve got it much better. Happy Fourth of July.


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