America’s airports, especially the major hubs, have a serious congestion problem. There are simply too many airplanes landing and taking off. Delays are the result, sometimes very long delays, with hundreds of thousands of airline passengers inconvenienced. There is also, of course, a potential safety issue with so many airplanes flying around in those crowded skies.
So what are our esteemed leaders doing about this? Off hand, I can think of three things:
Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, President Bush directed the military to allow civilian airliners into air space normally reserved for military aircraft, helping ease the problem for three (of 365) days.
The FAA has been talking for some time about a new and improved system for use by air traffic controllers. It would allow them to increase the number of take-offs and landings at these airports by reducing the separation between planes in the air. (Does that idea comfort you?)
And in a few major urban areas – Chicago, for example – there’s been talk about building whole new airports at a cost of many billions of dollars. (Gee ... that approach has worked really well with our highways, hasn't it!)
But get this: At many of these major airports – Chicago’s O’Hare, for example – as much as 40% of all flights are going to or coming from destinations that are 300 miles away or less.
Here's a question for you veteran air travelers: Can you get from downtown Chicago to downtown Milwaukee or Detroit or St Louis or Cincinnati by plane in two hours or less? Almost certainly not. Not with the cab out to O'Hare, waiting in lines for check-in and security and boarding, waiting for clearance to take-off, the actual flight time, then deplaning and collecting baggage and a second cab ride at the other end.
But each of those cities is 300 miles or less from Chicago. And that’s a two hour ride by high-speed rail.
So if high-speed rail links can take you in real comfort between many of our major cities in two hours and at the same time dramatically reduce congestion (and pollution) in the air, why aren’t we building high-speed inter-city rail lines as fast as possible?
Good question! And one we should all be asking every candidate for public office in this election year.