One of the smugger observations about the Transportation Department’s new working paper on the country’s 30-year infrastructure outlook came from the tech-central news site CNET: “What might seem run-of-the-mill in the San Francisco Bay Area these days impressed the high-ranking Washington politico.”

Wayne Cunningham, the CNET writer, was referring to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s visit to Google headquarters last week to unveil the agency’s report, “Beyond Traffic,” which is intended to spark conversation about where we are going as a country when it comes to moving ourselves and our stuff around. Foxx rode in a driverless car to the Google campus to deliver his remarks, and he loved it. This, he more or less said, is the kind of innovation that will fix the future, which looks pretty bleak without a lot of investment in such excellent gadgets. “We need to focus on the trends that are shaping our future,” he said. “It is time to sound the alarm bell.”

He most certainly did. The Beyond Traffic “blue paper,” which is billed as an outline of the longer report but reads more like ad copy, paints a harrowing picture of the U.S. transportation system in 2045. “A driver sits in traffic for hours, which may have been common in Los Angeles a generation before. [blank space for dramatic pause] But this particular driver lives in Omaha, Nebraska.”

That’s only the beginning. There is also a “businesswoman” who can’t board train after train on the Long Island Rail Road because each one is too full. “Now, the woman wonders not just whenshe will get to work… [dramatic blank space and bigger, bolder letters]”But if she will get there at all.”

Scare tactics aside, what emerges from a closer reading of the full report shouldn’t be a surprise: Road congestion and transit backlogs will continue to worsen, to the point of gridlock, if infrastructure development operates under the same paradigms and financing levels of the past 50 years. The movement of freight, for example, is on an upswing with the advancements of online shopping, just-in-time shipping, and international trade. Can the highways handle an additional 10 million trucks belching out diesel exhaust? If there are already bottlenecks in the freight delivery system, won’t the movement of goods to market essentially stop?

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Written by Fawn Johnson

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