Well, it’s February and Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow. According to legend, we should expect six more weeks of winter. Although groundhogs are not necessarily the best weather forecasters, based on recent winter storms, maybe the groundhog was right this year! Recent winter storms demonstrate just how dependent we have become on transportation. No matter the forecast, people expect to return home safely and to have their heating fuel delivered. For example, a January snowstorm crippled Atlanta, causing people to abandon their cars on stand-still highways. While severe, this was not an isolated case as most people can relate to being caught in some unexpected traffic situation.
But there exists another related reference. In the movie “Groundhog Day,” weatherman Phil Connors (played by Bill Murray) repeats the same day over and over again. He cannot escape his purgatory until he shapes the perfect day, full of compassion and vigor, and in doing so, transforms himself. The transportation sector is similarly stuck in a “Groundhog Day ”-type situation. There appear to more winter days ahead of us, as system conditions and traffic congestion worsen, reminding us of the infrastructure’s fragility. Considering that the Highway Trust Fund may run out of moneys this year, the question that has plagued decision makers is how to “fix” infrastructure funding without raising taxes, tolling, or any other “inconvenience” to the driving public. (As often happens, inactivity today may create future inconveniences!) Unlike Phil Connors we recreate “Groundhog Day” during each reauthorization cycle, not only for highways, but for other infra-structure funding bills as well, unable to resolve our dilemma.
A clear vision regarding a “perfect” transportation system for our country in the next 40 years is truly needed. But visioning will also require action, such as preparing for that future and identifying ever changing user needs. In the movie, Phil Connors learned to play the piano and speak French, which helped him achieve his transformation into a “new” man. Maybe by agreeing on a shared future, we will not return into our burrows, but will instead enjoy the warmth of an early spring.