I am writing from aboard the Amtrak on the way from Ann Arbor to Chicago. This particular line, the Wolverine, originates in Pontiac, MI and continues through places like Detroit (the busiest US/Canada crossing), Dearborn, Kalamazoo, and then to Chicago. Along the way the line will go through some of the largest commercial, industrial, and educational towns in America. Lots of great scenery, too.
That’s the good news.
The not-so-good news is that the train itself is outdated and maddeningly slow. We were just told by the conductor that what takes four hours by car will most likely take five or six on the train today because the track is in such poor condition (a bidding war between the track’s current owner and the federal government over the eventual sale price of the tracks only exacerbates the problem).
I am blogging about my trip not as much to complain about my own journey, but to illustrate that we have lost our way in this country when it comes to connecting our cities and providing vital, job creating infrastructure. In the Upper Midwest region, one desperate for jobs, we aren’t taking advantage of obvious growth opportunities that warrant an investment in infrastructure (a new bridge span between Detroit and Windsor, Canada; high-speed rail along Montreal/Toronto/Detroit/Chicago; public transit in Detroit, etc.). Our important core cities are, for the most part, about 20 years behind in updating vital roads, bridges, parks, and the like, too.
You know, there was a day in this country in the not so distant past that this would have embarrassed us as a nation. Forty-two years ago yesterday we landed a man on the moon, a huge source of pride for Americans and a salute to our innovative capabilities as a people. We beat the Russians! Spillover from the space program birthed technological advancements that aided our cities for decades to come. Yet today, we sit by and idly watch as the Japanese build trains that travel 5X faster than our own and many European and Asian countries roll out innovations in urban transportation on a regular basis. We seemingly lack the will, or perhaps the focus, to win anymore.
Great cities need strong bones. Great regions need strong cities. And, yes, great countries still need to dream.