Sometimes it seems that traveling over the roads can be as bumpy as traveling through the Old West in a the covered wagon. Local, city and interstate highways are worn down and need repair. Unfortunately the financial crisis and other priorities have slowed down both new and repair projects across the nation. Many of the problems with the condition of our highways are important safety issues. For example, cities have grown ouside their boundaries and are surpassing the ciruclar highways used to organize traffic in and out of places like Atlanta, Georgia. Many of the ramps cars use to enter and exit multiple lanes of highway are in need or repir. Repair is essential in order to avoid traffic accidents. When the colonists first settled in the US there were no roads but over the decades especially with the invenion of the automobile, people demanded roads and they wanted to good roads. The roads made it possible to travel safely for longer distances and people wanted better service from the post office for mail deliveries. Karnes, 2009, p. 7-8) In 1944 the federal government organized the funding for interstate highways by supporting states with the resources and states became responisble for projects and repairs. In the late 1990s detailed schemes for toll collection were set in place. One of the reasons was so the people who drove the roaads were responsiblef for paying for the upkeep. Another option chosen by states was to opt for private funding but that took power away from the states. Some states like California demanded that states have some control over the upkeep of the roads so amendments were made, but still the states who made the same choice do not have the same control they had previously.
Labor unions would probably still be strong if the use of electric railroads had been continued instead of switching to fossile fuel vehicles. Worker associations were a lot stronger because of the growth of industrial unions in the US in the early half of the 20th centrury. So much work needs to be done to build roads, public transportation, elecric cars and trains that a strong, healthy labor force is needed. Many people need work in the US but something is missing and that is funding. Unfortunately many think that the government will not be investing in the transportation system very soon. Robert Dunphy, Urban Land Institute, has said that what is most needed is a vision for the future and federal investment but he has not sounded very hopeful. (Karnes, p. 188)
On the positive side the Department of Energy (DOE) has been working on research projects to prepare for this change so the future looks exciting. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory for example has been working on efficient, sustainable vehicle designs as well as identifying fuel with th best performance. (Welch, p. 5) Many programs are orgranized and run from the lab with participation from citizens such as the Clean Cities Program. The alternatives for energy use that are being studied include bioenergy, fuel cells and hydrogen fuels.
What do the changes in our culture and lifestyles from the 1980s until now mean for the future of our roads? At one time people wanted better mail service but now the Internet allows mail to be delivered electronically over the Internet. We have relied on fossil fuel for transportation and purchased our own vehicles which has led to a polluted atmosphere and other environmental problems. On the other hand people still want to travel quickly and safety. People seem to be ready for a change though. Two popular solutions are (a) mass transportation and (b) sustainable energy to fuel private transportation. Many opportunities are available right now to build a sophisticated transportation system but as usual a lot depends upon public policy decisions.
Karnes, Thomas L. ( 2009). Asphalt and Politics: A history of the American highway system. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., Inc. Publishers.
Welch, Courtney. (2011). Sustainable Transportation Breakout Session. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Available at http://www1.eere.energy.gov/wip/solutioncenter/pdfs/breakout_sustainable_transportation_courtney_welch.pdf