OBSERVATIONS ON THE FUTURE OF U.S. TRANSPORTATION. I often get asked where the best place to live will be during the U.S. financial collapse. I recommend that one go where one has a support system: family or friends. (Can you all creatively co-operate?) Transportation also supports us. So the state of our transportation system during the collapse is an important factor in where we may want to live. Marginal businesses, esp. outlets of chains that are not high producers, will be closed. This means some rural/small town areas may lose important commercial infrastructure. Services in some areas will disappear, & the gas funds to drive long distances may not be available. Rural people may have to cooperate to survive. This post then is my peek into plausible scenarios in the next decade relating to America’s transportation network. (My father was a County Engineer & I worked for Fed. Hwy. Admin. for 2 yrs. so I have had some exposure to road maintenance/ construction.)
THE OVERALL PICTURE. Several networks combine to form a total transportation system: the power grid, the communication networks, the road networks, and the train & plane networks. They are all interconnected and inter-related. While the U.S. has their “act together” better than most countries, I see our abilities collapsing with the economy. Just the Interstate alone has 15,000 bridges. I see 7 subtopics to focus on: 1. The continuing increase in gas prices. 2.The overall effect of lack of funds 3. Power outages 4. New technology 5. Civil unrest/terrorism 6. The shakiness of countries exporting oil to the U.S. 7. The role of natural disasters.
1. The continuing increase in gas prices. The cost of gas will help put independent truckers out of business, & continue to reduce how much most people can travel. Governments & businesses will have limited funds for travel, and this will reduce the amount they travel, which puts more financial stress on businesses related to travel, such as airlines, taxis, car rentals, etc. Businesses dependent on deliveries of freight will find their production disrupted. Disruptions in the flow of commodities is a problem because perishable food stuffs are moved on our highways, planes & even trains. Trucks are normally involved in the short hauls of perishables. The transportation costs & other problems will eliminate business competition, which means that there will be less variety, and having monopolies, big companies will be more comfortable raising their prices.
2. The overall effect of lack of funds may over a period of time reduce the robustness of airports, seaports, rapid transit stations, and other important transport centers. Maintenance on both the infrastructure & vehicles will be reduced. It will take a few years for the Interstate to degrade, but local roads in various areas can go fast. Businesses & people will just have to improvise. It will also create a smaller number of trucks hauling freight and seriously create shortages of commodities. Governments have used bond measures in part to build infrastructure like roads. The states use gas sales tax, state excise tax on motor fuels, & truck weight fees to bring in maintenance money. But the revenues generated this way are falling short. Local govt.s are getting stressed to finance roads. Some are using general fund money like property taxes. Motor fuel taxes are a fair way to raise funds, but state after state has been fearful to increase these taxes. They would rather sneak around with Development Impact Fees. But now that GPS is in cars, Oregon here is considering the idea of mileage-based user charges. Oregon has been the test center for the elite for decades. Mileage-based user charges would be computed by an onboard computer in your car linked to its GPS. They are trying to get around people’s aversion to the govt. knowing where you drove & your driving patterns by using encryption software that would simple give a reading on what you owe, instead of everywhere you drove. (Hmmm…Are you ready to entrust your privacy to encryption software, when the govt. has the best computer experts to decrypt anything?). Another solution is what Chile, Korea, Columbia, So. Africa, and Malaysia did…they turned their highways over to private companies. Chile gave out “concession contracts” for roads. California privatized SR-91.
3. Power outages. Many items connected to the network are at risk from power outages incl.: traffic signals, ramp meters, signal heads, signal controllers, conflict monitors, switch gears, loop detectors and other things. It would be nice if appropriate batteries & generators were already in place, but in most situations that is not the case. Studies have shown that a one hour power failure at an intersection (shutting down the traffic light) results in the traffic coming through losing 1,000 to 2,000 hours due to the failure. When a system is slowed down it results in congestion & people taking alternative routes.
4. New technology. Don’t expect any big break throughs implemented. In spite of all the talk about new forms of energy, new forms are not going to replace gas, oil, & coal. At best they can slightly supplement these. For most of my life, they have had the tested/proven technology to make magnetic-levitation-hover trains that have gone over 500 m.p.h. They never did anything with that technology, nor many others related to transportation. Cars that fly like the Jetson cartoons have also been buildable. Trains have continued to improve their technology step by step. Trains carry important loads of steel, iron, coal, mineral oils, & grains. Because nationally we have only 3 transnational railroad routes, the northern, central & southern, the movement of trains is very vulnerable. If trucking slacks off will rail be able to pick up the slack? In Germany, they developed the best piggyback system for driving on & off piggybacked vehicles from rail cars. Perhaps we could learn from them. There is talk about genetically engineered crops that would take sunlight and turn it to a liquid fuel!
5. Civil unrest/terrorism. I consider civil unrest to be a major threat to transportation. Law breaks down into an orgy of brute force. Almost all the truckers, who were to take supplies into New Orleans, got as far as they could from the area, because they were scared from the reports of looting & guns. FEMA employees & private employees were afraid to deploy to New Orleans, & their bosses did not want employees exposed to any risks. People during Katrina waited at the N.O. Superdome. Some died from lack of food. Trucks were ordered there, but no one knows what happened to them. The airlines use the hub-spoke concept, and have created plane hubs in Phoenix, Denver, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Atlanta, Chicago, Las Vegas, Houston, Newark, Philadelphia & Cleveland. What might major civil unrest do to the flow of air traffic??
While I view the likelihood of terrorist attacks to be slim, I do view the preparations & scares to protect against such to be a genuine threat. Just like the threat of nuclear war during the Cold War was more tangible than the actual event, which in the event never occurred. Our transportation system evolved in a relative secure environment and is not designed to survive serious terrorism or power grid attacks. There are soft spots in the system. Attacks on transportation networks abroad have included tunnels & bridges. When evacuations w/ evacuation routes occur, people are going to be driving at 30 m.p.h. or less. Back in the late ‘70’s, Kansas was already stopping cars in random car screenings. Expect more of this. If authorities are concerned about car bombs, they may end up setting up concrete barriers called Jersey barriers that have broad bases & have to be emplaced with cranes & forklifts.
6. The shakiness of countries exporting oil to the U.S. Many of the nations that export oil to the U.S. are in tension, politically instable, and could easily fall into chaos. In the 73-74 oil embargo, 1/5 of the filling stations in the U.S. were empty of gas at the end of Feb. 74. The U.S. imports something like 62% of our oil.
7. The role of natural disasters. Hurricanes show how a natural disaster can stress everything in a region. Katrina is a good example of how the transportation system broke down. Hazardous material accidents can be a side effect of natural disasters. About 400 items are considered key during such a natural disaster. However, in disasters like Katrina reliable emergency logistic systems have repeatedly broke down.
FINAL THOUGHTS. Cities will be in chaos & dangerous. Small towns & rural areas near food sources (like where one can garden) and near good transportation have advantages. We need to be dedicated to life & life in Christ. Don’t depend on the govt. to save you. Let us take control of our own lives as responsible citizens of the Kingdom, and not scared subjects of the All-seeing Eye hidden government. God has given us a sound mind, so let’s use it. Be blessed my friend.