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Publication Number:      Date:  July/August 1999
Issue No: Vol. 63 No. 1
Date: July/August 1999


Editor's Notes

The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) is a year old. The bill was passed by the Congress on May 22, 1998, and President Clinton signed it into law on June 9, 1998.

After a year, we can see that TEA-21, which provides a record level of investment in highways, transit systems, and intermodal facilities, is living up to its promise. Its influence is being felt in virtually every major surface transportation project, and it is an important contributor to America's prosperity and to the continued increase in our quality of life. Its effect is so pervasive that it could be described as an octopus with a tentacle wrapped around every major highway program.

And, in fact, the pervasive influence of transportation on our society could also be described as an octopus with a tentacle touching almost every aspect of our lives in the United States. As we look back upon the way the world has been changed in the 20th century by improvements in transportation - in particular, by the airplane and automobile - we can scarcely imagine the incredible changes that lie ahead in the 21st century, and TEA-21 is laying the foundation for the research and technology advancements and the infrastructure improvements that will bring about those changes.

Almost every story in Public Roads is about some sort of advancement or improvement. However, the point about the pervasive influence of transportation is best made in "Highways and the New Wave of Economic Growth" and "Top 10 Construction Achievements of the 20th Century."

In "Highways and the New Wave of Economic Growth," the authors state, "As the 20th century ends, the United States is in a fifth wave of industrialization that is transforming the global market and changing traditional notions of development. ... All transactions depend on a fast and reliable transportation network that minimizes the cost of production. A recent report by a leading logistics company notes that nearly 80 percent of executives consider product delivery as important as product quality. Now, more than ever, businesses require a seamless, intermodal transportation system."

The Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways was selected as one of the top 10 construction achievements of the 20th century not simply because it was the largest public works project in history or because it has returned $6 in economic productivity for each dollar it cost to construct but because "the interstate system has transformed America. In addition to being the workhorse of the American economy, it has helped to unite the nation, provided the centerpiece of a transportation network that will ensure competitiveness in the international marketplace of the 21st century, and enhanced the freedom of mobility that is essential to the American way of life."

The interstate system has changed where a great number of Americans live, shop, work, and play. The mass "suburbanization" of America, which was directly spawned by the interstate system, led to the creation of "edge cities." In Edge City: Life on the New Frontier (Doubleday, 1991), Joel Garreau explains that an edge city typically contains a mix of offices, shopping malls, corporate headquarters, hotels, and entertainment.

TEA-21 has charted a course that will continue to change America, and it will be very interesting to see how many more tentacles the "octopus" will grow and how far those transportation tentacles will stretch.

Bob Bryant




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