Obama SOTU(s): We Need a New Transportation Megaproject to Undo the Last Megaproject

One of the most jarring inconsistencies in Obama's speeches about how America needs to go on a greening spree is his constant invocation of the interstate highway system, perhaps the most environmentally destructive government project in American history. Our formidable network of highways made an appearance in Obama's first two State of the Union addresses, and sure enough, he worked it into last night's speech too, followed by a shout out to high-speed rail projects in California and the Midwest:

We have to do better. America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, and constructed the interstate highway system. The jobs created by these projects didn't just come from laying down tracks or pavement. They came from businesses that opened near a town's new train station or the new off-ramp. [...]

Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail, which could allow you go places in half the time it takes to travel by car. For some trips, it will be faster than flying—without the pat-down. As we speak, routes in California and the Midwest are already underway.

Like most Americans who have only known an auto-dependent nation, Obama seems to forget that America once had a robust, private mass transit network that was the envy of the world, parts of which still exist in the form of poorly-managed, decaying public transit authorities (most intracity bus routes in America were once private streetcar lines). The downfall of mass transit in America is a complex issue, but the massive network of subsidized highways begun by FDR and continued by Eisenhower was the final nail in the coffin of what was once America's most innovative industries. As convenient as it is for Obama to forget, it's a history that he'll have to face up to if he wants to dream bigger than his ill-conceived high-speed rail project. A perfect example of cargo cult urbanism, it seeks to emulate the frills of European and Japanese systems without actually allowing for the density that makes such networks feasible.

Someone also might want to remind Obama that the interstate highway system he is so proud of would not have been possible without the widespread use of eminent domain, to which he alludes in a dig at China:

Of course, some countries don't have this problem. If the central government wants a railroad, they get a railroad—no matter how many homes are bulldozed.

SOTU bonus: Like most Americans who said they'd watch the annual address, you probably didn't. But not to worry—Thomas Jefferson thought they were dumb, too:

Jefferson also found the State of the Union address to be too magisterial when delivered in person. He performed one and afterwards delivered them, as required by the constitution, only in writing.

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  • ||

    STEVE SMITH NOT LIKE TRAINS! TRAINS CARRY HOBOS AWAY FROM STEVE! DEPRIVE STEVE OF RAPE AND DINNER! HOBOS ALREADY MARINATED IN WINE, MAKE TASTY HOBO AU VIN! YES, STEVE WATCH JULIA CHILD JUST LIKE YOU!

  • Sam Grove||

    The function of political industry:

    Drive private service providers out of business.
    Take over remains.
    Take credit for providing service.

  • cynical||

    #4. Convince people that without government, service cannot be provided at all.

  • Obama||

    Let me be clear: government is the engine that drives the great train of civilization. Without it, society would go off the rails into a ditch full of slurpee cups.

  • Obama's Volt||

    And it would crash down on me at the bottom of the ditch.

  • ||

    "For some trips, it will be faster than flying—without the pat-down."

    Why no pat-down? Isn't a high-speed train vulnerable to the same carry-on destruction as airplanes? Or were the pat-downs imposed on air travel designed to make other types of travel seem like less of a hassle? Hmmm.

  • ||

    Actually, it is even more vulnerable than airplanes as hundreds of miles of track can be attacked by bombs timed to go off as a train is approaching. (Imagine a 1000 tons of steel coming off a track at 200 mph.)

  • LarryA||

    Way high tech. All you relly have to do is pull up a bunch of those spike thingys. Works best on a curve.

  • Politicians||

    Uh, no, trains are magical. Nothing bad ever happened on or because of a train. They fix any nation's problems and are just fantastic, unbelievable miracles.

  • Kolohe||

    Amtrak's new commerical jingle will be a reprise of an old one, but now sung by Violent J

  • Hugh Akston||

    Fucking transit, how does it work?

  • ||

    One of the most jarring inconsistencies in Obama's speeches about how America needs to go on a greening spree is his constant invocation of the interstate highway system, perhaps the most environmentally destructive government project in American history.

    Citation needed.

    I would submit that the Army Corps of Engineers damming every river in sight, the Hannaford Nuclear plant and the California water projects have been more destructive environmentally.

  • The TSA||

    Pedestrians, too, eventually!

  • The TSA||

    What the fuck, that was supposed to be in response to tired dog below.

    I swear, this has never happened to me before...

  • Zeb||

    Well, pedestrians do chose to walk, rather than staying at home, lying down, with the lights off and their eyes closed, keeping both hands visible at all times in case a swat team comes to the wrong door. Traveling by foot is a privilege, not a right. The constitution is not a suicide pact, dammit.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I lul'd

  • ||

    -without the pat-down...nonsense, tsa has announced its intent to do trains, trams, ferries and buses too.

  • In Time Of War||

    His statement is utter crap. DHS has thrown down random searches at train stations and patrols trains with dogs and agents. If enough people start taking the train, they will be buggered senseless by g'ment agents. Period.

  • GroundTruth||

    Stole me thunder you did!!!

  • T||

    Y'know, I think I read something about this the other day. I think it went "You cannot stop the blunders of one government program by putting another one on top of it."

    Now where did I read that?

  • ||

    the interstate highway system he is so proud of

    Well, liberals are "proud" of it when they use it to "prove" that Big Government is the be-all and end-all of existence ("why, without the government building roads we'd be just like Somalia!!!").

    Then when they get on their "green" kick they wail about Americans and their evul automobiles. How do their heads not explode from the contradictions they drag around?

  • roystgnr||

    They don't just drag around those contradictions, they're unreasoningly proud of most of them, even when just a little analysis would make the problems obvious:

    http://reason.com/blog/2010/05.....nt_1715786

  • ||

    The Barack Obama Space Elevator.

  • ||

    Hmm.

    A government project 22,300 miles high requiring advanced technologhy and a life support system, presumably also government designed. Sounds perfect for political junkets.

    While you are at it, why not replace the valuable, highly skilled and trained crew for the last shuttle flight with a bunch of politicians?

  • ||

    Sounds like a good idea. 'Cause politicians can do anything!

  • ||

    How well can you breathe vaccuum, Senator?

  • ||

    "I'll have you know that I was a champion vacuum breather in college! How dare you suggest otherwise!"

  • ||

    the federal highway system was a defense project.

  • ||

  • Warty||

    You choo-choo-choose me??

  • Nelson||

    Ha Ha!

  • H man||

    Always been a monorail man myself.

  • In Time Of War||

    Seattle proved that if you vote for a monorail enough times, despite the wishes of your betters, the ruling class will eventually tell you to fuck off.

  • EJM||

    A perfect example of cargo cult urbanism, it seeks to emulate the frills of European and Japanese systems without actually allowing for the density that makes such networks feasible.

    No love for either South Korea or Taiwan?

  • LarryA||

    The jobs created by these projects didn't just come from laying down tracks or pavement. They came from businesses that opened near a town's new train station or the new off-ramp.

    You mean the businesses that replaced the ones that closed down because they were bypassed?

  • Hobie Hanson||

    Ever heard of the multiplier?

  • Rather||

    "Jefferson also found the State of the Union address to be too magisterial" Maybe he just didn't like to sign autographs ;-)

  • Amakudari||

    A perfect example of cargo cult urbanism, it seeks to emulate the frills of European and Japanese systems without actually allowing for the density that makes such networks feasible.

    As a resident of Japan, it is incumbent on me to point out that the rail systems here are profitable. JR, the largest provider, is private (as a result of privatization that occurred in the late 80s, I believe). It costs around $2 to get across town in Tokyo using that private line, and that transit is not subsidized (at least not directly or meaningfully). If you add in a fixed-price discount pass called a teikiken, you can get at least 25% off that if you commute on weekdays.

    Compare that to the US, where not only is mass transit tax-deductible, but abominations like BART cost about twice as much for the same distance and require the same amount in subsidy and offer no discount passes.

  • Nike Dunk High Women||

    thanks

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