The Ultimate Master Plan To Fix Our Transportation Networks

It’s no secret that our transportation networks in this country are in need of great repair. Many structures are falling apart and others are just functionally obsolete. Many of the original highways built in the 1950’s and 60’s are still being used today. They are falling apart, and they’re handling significantly more traffic than the roads and bridges were intended for.  Our population is growing and the problem is not going to solve itself, it will get worse unless something massive gets proposed and completed. So how should we go about fixing this?

1. Roads

The first way we should address this problem is with our roads. Every city is different, so you really can’t apply the same method nationwide. In some cases, roads really can’t be widened any further, such as New York City. That means they’ve reached their maximum capacity and very little can be done. The roads could be paved, if needed, but that won’t solve traffic capacity or traffic flow. So the next option for a city like New York would be to build more roads. Well, that’s really not an option either. New York has no room to build. With the subway system underneath the city, it would be almost impossible to build new tunnels. This makes a city like New York one of the most unique cities in our country, due to its sheer size and lack of available land to build on or under.

We’ll talk more about New York in a second, but for now let’s look at my home city, Cincinnati. For comparison sake, it is a city with just under 300,000 with 2.1 million people living in the metropolitan area, so there’s quite a few people that live here. Interstate 75 and 71 cause some serious backups and add on average anywhere from 15 to 35 minutes to a commute sitting in traffic. Let’s focus on Interstate 71 through Hamilton County. Interstate 71 is very poorly designed at the Norwood Lateral (Ohio 562).

Going North on I-71 is normally not too much of an issue starting just after the tunnel downtown all the way up to Exit 6 (Smith/Edwards), with 4 continuous lanes. Past Exit 6 is a huge problem. 4 thru lanes becomes 2 at exit 8, with the first right lane going to the Norwood Lateral, and the second right lane going to Ridge Ave North. While the first right lane ends, a new left lane thru lane comes in from the Norwood Lateral. Then the interstate continues for 3 continuous lanes all the way up to I-275 (almost 10 miles). And it’s that area between those two points where there’s a massive traffic backup.

Going South on I-71 from I-275 doesn’t have the lane capacity to handle today’s traffic. Currently it is a 3 lane highway until the Norwood Lateral. There are many fundamental design flaws on this side of the highway just like the northbound side. The flaws being right before Exit 9 for Red Bank Road. There is an oncoming traffic ramp from Stewart Road and the exit lane for Red Bank in very close proximity of each other. And since Red Bank is a very popular exit, there’s a lot of traffic trying to get over to exit while traffic from Stewart Road tries to merge onto the highway. This is where the bottleneck begins. From there, it has another simultaneous exit/merge at the Norwood Lateral. The right lane exits to Norwood, while the left entry ramp becomes the new left lane. From there, it continues all the way down to Reading Road as a 4 lane highway.

So what does all of that shows us? Why is that important for our nation’s infrastructure? Well, it shows us that some of our traffic problems may not even be the amount of lanes available, it may be design flaws. The amount of cars that can go would increase if the design was fixed. It also shows us that with a combination of fixing highway design that one more lane of traffic may be all it needs, and an entirely new road may not be needed. And with 1 more lane, and design flaws fixed, thousands of cars and trucks would be able to pass on through without stopping for traffic jams. This means trucks can carry their goods faster to their destination, and in turn help the economy grow. Prices wouldn’t have to go up on goods as easily because they wouldn’t be nearly as late. When that happens, the consumers win, which is us.

Now of course there’s more issues to solve than just traffic flow design issues. Other infrastructure such as potholes and drainage needs to be addressed as well.

2. Airports

Airports are probably the most complicated way to travel long distance. And things took a terrible turn for the worse for airlines after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001. New rules and regulations took place and new agencies were formed. One of the most hated ones is the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). They have multiple serious issues, the first would making people feel violated because of the way they do screenings. My short opinion is, passengers should never feel that way and what the TSA does to screen people is inappropriate (sometimes that’s even saying it nicely).

The biggest issue from an economic standpoint is the screening process. Lines tend to get very, very long because of the way TSA has the process setup. For those who don’t know, let me educate you how this works. First, you have to show an attendant your boarding pass so you can enter the security checkpoint area (TSA Pre-Check has helped speed this process up in recent years). Then you have to wait in line (sometimes VERY long lines) because there’s maybe 1, 2, or 3 people who check your boarding pass and your ID. They have a process that takes 30-60 seconds for each individual passenger before they will let you through. So if there’s a problem with a boarding pass or your ID, the line gets held up even more. This is where there are major lines (or backups) and people can’t get through.

Once you’ve been cleared to continue, then you have to take off your shoes, your belt (if you have one on), and place all of your carry on items in a bucket (often times very undersized). From there you will have to pass through full body metal detectors, often times an X-Ray machine. You’ll be asked to raise your arms and they’ll run a 5 to 10 second scan on you before giving you the all clear. And sometimes those scans won’t go through the first time, so they have to try again. And there are others that refuse to go through the x-rays, so they have to be padded down with a detector full body (very controversial). Once you pass that, you can put your shoes back on, grab your carry ons, and head to the concourse where your flight will be taking off.

Now you have to wait for your flight. For some people, it won’t be a very long wait. For most others, there’s at least an hour of waiting, possibly several more if your flight gets delayed or even cancelled. And if your flight is running on time, boarding is (supposed) to take 30 minutes (maybe less on smaller planes). Then you have to wait on the tarmac for your flight to take off. And often times the runways are backed up. There’s a possibility that you’ll be waiting to take off for some time.

I pulled the following data from this article from CNN that states: “For fiscal year 2016, the TSA’s authorized staffing level is 42,525 and passenger volume is projected to be 740 million, according to the TSA. There’s been a 15 percent increase in passenger volume and a 10 percent drop in staffing since fiscal year 2013.” (Bold and underline mine). Does anybody else see a serious math problem with this, or is it just me? (sarcasm) I’m pretty sure I just found your bottleneck problem.

There’s a lot here that we can learn from airports. It’s unfortunately probably going to take a long, long time to fix this problem. There needs to be reform from the bottom up, starting with the TSA. It was originally created by the government to make sure nothing like 9/11 ever happens again. But the fundamental problem was having a government agency run the process. It should be run by a private entity, but there’s a good chance that will never happen. Assuming the government will still operate it, it needs to employ more people. Yes, our tax dollars would fund this, and if it couldn’t be privatized, then I would be willing to have my tax dollars be spent for it (government waste is another issue, but that’s another topic for another day).  I think ultimately, that’s the way it’s going to have to happen.

The TSA can’t be cutting staff when airport traffic is increasing. That’s not sustainable. Of course, they’ll tell you where is that money going to come from. Are we going to give more of our tax dollars to TSA? I shudder at the very thought of that because I don’t want to give more of our tax dollars to the TSA. But it may have to happen. But there’s always hope of one day having security ran by a private company. Because if they suck or do a horrible job, or worse harass people like the TSA, they’re fired. It doesn’t matter about the government, they can’t be fired (or at least is very difficult to do).

Now you run into the runway problem. Have you seen the design of most of our runways? They intersect right into each other. That means a plane cannot land on one runway while another is taking off on a different runway that intersect each other at the same time. This leads to bottlenecks. This is a tough problem to solve, because many airports simply just don’t have the land for another runway (like LaGuardia Airport in New York). Runways were built intersecting each other to save space. There are some airports in the country that only have 1 runway. San Diego comes to mind. They are in desperate need of new runways, but they also have a land issue. They would need to build an entirely new airport outside the city to do it.

One major airport that should be the model for the rest of our airports in terms of runway layout is the Denver airport. It is one of the busiest airports in the country. They have 6 runways, and none of them intersect with each other. And they also have room to build quite a few more if they need to, or expand existing concourses to add more gates. And they also have the space to build more concourses if they need to. This airport will have very little difficulty expanding if they need to (and they already have to an extent). Of course, Denver is the largest airport in terms of land in the country, which gives it some very big advantages. How do you solve that problem in New York?

About the only way you could do it is to build out a runway into the East River. Other than that, there’s not much anyone can do to change the runway problem. However, it should be noted that LaGuardia is undergoing a full-scale multi-billion rebuild of the entire airport (less runways). It is long overdue, and once it is complete (set to complete in 2022), it will be able to handle a lot more passengers at a time. If they can’t fix the runway problem, they can at least (try to) fix the terminal side of it.

3. Bullet Trains

Currently in the United States, there is no bullet train, however there are some projects that have been proposed. As of this writing, it looks like the bullet train line between Dallas and Houston is the most likely one to be built first, with initial construction slated for late 2018 or early 2019. It would open roughly 4-5 years after construction.

Outside of that, there is no existing infrastructure of which to improve on. This would be my first proposal of an entirely new transportation network. Imagine for a second that every roadway that could be fixed of design flaws and/or widened, and airports became a lot more efficient and fixed of their problems, would there be a need for another transportation network?

The answer is yes, here’s why. Our population is growing. This country is not getting any smaller. Here’s the problem we run into with “perfect highways” (with no design flaws). With the population growing, more people will be driving cars. And that creates traffic. There will be a lot of people who will never give up their cars either, for two reasons. Subway tunnels can’t be built everywhere, it’s just not doable nor sustainable, so taking a car would make sense (and be the only option). And also the fact that people just love driving cars, and that’s their preferred method of getting around. So no matter how well you design or widen highways, it can only go so far until there’s just no more room for more cars. Some highways are already at that point, further solidifying why we need a bullet train network (and subways, but more on that in #4).

Now comes the nation’s bullet train network. It would be one of the most most costliest projects this country has ever seen. But the money would be well worth spending. Not only does our generation need this, but our children and grandchildren will need it more than we do. The bullet train network would operate at 300 mph between major cities. So this would an intercity system. The bullet trains would be high capacity, and comfortable. Bullet trains will be able to seat up to 2,300 people under my proposal. It would be able to move large groups of people at a time, and very quickly. This would help reduce the number of cars on the highways between cities in the short term, and in the long haul be able to handle the balance the load between cars and bullet trains.

4. Subways

There are only some cities that have subway systems in the country that are currently active. They are New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Cleveland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Baltimore, Chicago (elevated train), Atlanta (blended system of above ground and below ground), and Miami (elevated train). Half of these systems are not very extensive in length. New York has the most extensive system easily.

The problem is, a lot of these subway tunnels are very, very old and in need of repair (and replacement). New York’s subway tunnels were first opened in 1904. Boston’s first subway tunnel opened in 1897. It is my opinion that these subway tunnels are functionally obsolete. New York’s subway has reached its maximum capacity during rush hour on a number of different routes. The stations were only built for the length of the train.

For the existing subways, it’s time for a complete rebuild of the system. Technology has progressed by light years compared to the early 1900’s. Not only can we build the tunnels right this time, we can build them to last for another 100+ years. Since a lot of New York’s subways were built cut-and-cover (digging massive trenches into roads, building subway tunnels, then covering it back up again with roads), there’s plenty of room underneath them to build. Yes, New York’s rock underneath the streets in the earth’s surface is very unstable and its close proximity to water makes it more difficult and expensive to build.

But again, it’s needed. We were able to build the subway tunnels before 1950 that went underneath the Hudson and East Rivers, and through densely populated areas. We can do it again today. Of course that’s much easier said than done, but we can, we have to work together to make this happen.

But what about cities that don’t have subway systems? I’m not talking about light rail systems. I’m talking about fully underground subway systems. It would be a massive undertaking to build any system out. And the United States is generally not densely populated, making this even more of a challenge. However, when it’s built for efficiency and for maximum ridership, it will work.

Just like the bullet trains, the subway system would be designed with a minimum of 4 tracks wide: the outer two lanes for local trains, and the two inner lanes for express trains. This would maximize the flow of trains and be able to get to their destinations much quicker.  If people knew that they could get from their home in the suburbs 25 miles north of their city to downtown where they work with no stops in 15 minutes or less, that’s a game changer. Not only with this help with traveling around the metro area, but getting to other cities without a car as well.

5. Buses

The finally part of my plan would also be incredibly ambitious. In my highway rebuilding program and in all major cities with high bus ridership, I would rebuild all the bridges to be at least 20 above the highway or road. This is to provide clearance for full-size double decker buses. Combined with an efficient route, it would save a lot of cars from the road. Current double-decker buses are very short on height, lowering the level of passenger experience. My proposed bus would be about 18 feet tall, the exact height of my proposed high density subway cars.

Bus stations would have to be rebuilt as well under my plan. To make loading and unloading double decker buses faster, a second level to the stations would be built, and there would be 2 doors on each floor for a total of 4 doors for entry and exit on each bus. That way the bus doesn’t have to stay stopped for long, and can easily begin its way to the next station.

Stretch buses are one solution that’s already in place for high capacity. The problem with stretch buses is the space they take on the road, though some can validly argue that on a full stretch bus saves several cars off the road and would be efficient. And yes that’s true, I won’t argue that point. I’m just saying, I’m going to make it better.

The double-decker buses would help connect subway stations to where people need to go where there isn’t a subway station nearby. Some people will also use it because it’s a cheaper alternative than driving.

Brian Cole

I'm Brian and I'm the founder of TransportationOfTomorrow.com. I have a strong passion for fixing America's transportation infrastructure problem and traffic flow issues. I ultimately want to see the American economy grow as far as it will go, create massive amounts of jobs, and in that way help the quality of how people live.