Trump's $1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Plan Would Be Great -- In The 1950s
After a tumultuous first year, President Donald J. Trump thinks infrastructure is a cause that both Democrats and Republicans in Congress can get behind, and he’s probably right.
In his first State of the Union address earlier this week, Trump called on Congress to produce a bill that would invest at least $1.5 trillion “to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.”
Lamenting that “it can take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road,” Trump called on both houses to come together “to give us the safe, fast, reliable, and modern infrastructure our economy needs and our people deserve.”
He might as well have been singing along with Dinah Shore in 1953: "See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet!"
Vowing to reclaim America’s building heritage, Trump said, “We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways across our land” while reducing red tape for builders and improving internet service in rural America.
No doubt all these improvements are necessary. But the president’s infrastructure plan fails to acknowledge tomorrow’s realities: transportation as we know it is about to undergo a revolution every bit as transformative as the smartphone and the personal computer.
This revolution in future mobility is just beginning, and while the end game is still unclear, the trends driving it are very obvious to anyone who studies transportation: automated driving technology, vehicle electrification, cloud connectivity and shared mobility services.
We can argue about when the dawn of smart, connected, self-driving electric vehicles will arrive, but it’s coming, probably within the next five to 10 years, and we need to prepare now.
Transportation agencies can’t wait to see how it all plays out. The White House itself acknowledges that “the median time to complete an environmental review process of complex highway projects is at least 7 years.” Government planners need to integrate smart vehicles into their long-term plans now so that the necessary communication technologies are in place when the Jetsons era finally does arrive.
Vehicles will soon be equipped, for example, with technology that lets them “talk” with other cars to avoid accidents and warn drivers about congestion, road hazards and crashes ahead.
But those vehicles also need to be able to share information with the road itself. Pilot programs are already in place in a handful of cities that provide two-way communications between cars and their environments. Transportation agencies can upload vehicle-generated data about things like speed, wiper usage, tire slippage and congestion that they can quickly analyze to manage traffic in real time. Smart vehicles need smart highways.
Imagine self-driving or semi-automated trucks, operating in platoons, being able to talk to infrastructure using technologies like differential GPS, high-speed LTE and dedicated short-range communications to improve safety and traffic flow across cities and along commuting corridors.
Electric vehicles require an infrastructure all their own. Trump’s plan makes no mention of trying to speed the rollout of EV charging networks. Yet barring a complete unraveling of current emission regulations that mandate a sharp hike in fuel economy by 2025, a flood of plug-in cars will be hitting American roads in a few years. Companies like Qualcomm are working on wireless induction technology that can be embedded in the pavement, allowing your car to be automatically charged as you roll along at highway speeds. The technology is likely far-off still, but transportation agencies need to be thinking of such scenarios now.
The White House says Trump’s plan would encourage state and local authorities to prioritize infrastructure projects based on their community’s needs. What’s increasingly clear is that one-size-fits-all does not apply when it comes to urban transportation. Each city will require its own mix of mobility solutions and infrastructure, and the key will be using technology to link these multi-modal systems to improve the efficiency of roads, rails, waterways and air transport.
Rebuilding America’s infrastructure is more than just propping up bridges for another 25 years or slathering roads with a fresh layer of asphalt. A transportation revolution is on our doorstep, and governments need to be ready by putting the right ecosystems in place now.