Transportation Infrastructure: The Future of Autos and Beyond

Sep 21, 2016

the face of the world's transportation infrastructure

When the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act passed in 2015, $305 billion was earmarked for innovative highway, motor vehicle and safety projects over the next four years. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) responded by funding several grants to move current and new transportation infrastructure plans forward. It is expanding the potential for passenger and freight travel while encouraging innovation on actual roads themselves. However, there are many parts and pieces to the new world of transportation beyond what is even outlined in the different documents available on DOT’s website. These are not just limited to the U.S., but globally. The future of how we get from one place to another – or not – is changing travel and how we communicate.

The changing face of transportation infrastructure

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) presented its “Assessing the global transport infrastructure market: Outlook to 2025” report in October 2015. The professional services giant looks at where the world is going with its investment in inter- and multimodal forms of transportation based on region over the next decade. PWC predicts an increase in port and rail innovations/renovations, a decline in airport infrastructure projects and variable rising and falling in automobile-based programs. The study also highlights infrastructure projects that are growing in less-developed nations. Various territories are creating better ways to connect within their own areas and make it possible to be more open to those traveling from outside their regions. Laying the groundwork for more engagement boosts the economy in these once underserved countries as well as provides a much-needed financial benefit to developed nations.

The role of freight and safety

The FAST Act is specifically created to address ground transportation, which means airplane fleets are not included. However, there is some mention of shipping and port innovations. This is heavily based on concerns over traffic congestion and safety issues surrounding the movement of freight, which includes the containers themselves as well as the items being transported.

As DOT deals with different commercial and fleet needs, it is implementing changes in how certain cargo is shipped. The agency is also loosening restrictions and lag times for new freight-based construction projects, setting the stage to create an abundance of more streamlined delivery systems. Funding is shifting to accommodate faster movement on breaking ground for those programs as well as expediting the handling and transfer of hazardous materials during times of crisis. It is DOT’s goal to get transportation infrastructure projects up and running as soon as possible. Its focus on freight ensures that bottlenecks at the docks and on waterways and roads become a thing of the past so that economies continue will thrive with timely shipping and receiving.

The controversy surrounding high-speed rail

the U.S. keeps waiting for dedicated high-speed trains

Is high-speed rail a pipe dream for America?

It’s true that America is far behind other countries when it comes to its railways. The nation’s trains are slower for the most part even after the passage of President Obama’s high-speed rail bill. Many lines have been upgraded to get riders from Point A to Point B faster, but true dedicated high-speed rail lines don’t exist anywhere in the U.S. The planned bullet train for California is on hold – and may never see the light of day – and other states like Florida and Ohio have returned federal funds for their programs. The reasons for the rejections are concerns over cost overruns and states’ being on the hook to subsidize the lines long after construction and well into operation. Creating a strong public transport system is one of those green vehicle initiatives that usually has supporters, so what is it about this form of travel that has created such an issue for so many Americans?

The cost to implement a high-speed rail system is exorbitant. Maintaining it is also a huge financial burden. Government subsidies need to be in place for many years beyond when the actual lines open. Out of all of the dedicated fast train services in the world, only three cover their operating costs without any help from their governments: Japan’s Shinkansen, China’s Shanghai Maglev and the section of the Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) that connects Paris to Lyon. As the U.S. looks to duplicate those successes, more and more cities and states are opting out. The focus is going toward making railroad freight service more efficient and upgrading cargo trains so they are faster. Many believe you create speedier passenger options or freight carriers. The economies and transportation infrastructure of the different regions can’t handle the burden of both.

Cars are things of the past… maybe

While our roads and the different ways we travel are updated, will alternative modes push cars off the roads? Forget about self-driving pods that take you wherever you want to go without your having to lift a finger (or steer a wheel). Ignore what you’ve heard about those hyper-communicative connected vehicles that talk to streets, each other and digital devices to make for a smoother, safer ride. Ever heard of the Hyperloop? Maybe you’ve read things about Elio.  Surely, you’ve heard of telecommuting or working remotely right? And maybe it’s not losing the car, but losing the road as we’ve come to know it – how about solar-powered highways?

All of these are innovations in travel that could either make the car obsolete or change the highways on which we travel to such an extent that the transportation infrastructure we’ve grown accustomed to is now obsolete. Besides the Hyperloop, each of these are either in use (telecommuting/remote working), currently being tested (Solar Roadways in Missouri) or on the verge of implementation (Elio, not a motorcycle and not really a car, but something in between). What all of these forms of movement offer are ways to create safer, more efficient and environmentally-friendly ways of getting around.

And in regards to the Hyperloop, it may or may not ever be anything besides a really cool sketch of a super fast, sci-fi commuter “train” shooting through a tube at such high speeds, people wonder if it will turn all of our insides into mush. But there have been tests and that’s what everyone thought about self-driving cars, didn’t they?

What now?

So what does all of this mean in travel? As the world moves forward, how we get around will constantly be reevaluated, reinvented and reconsidered. Traffic congestion is at an all-time high, which means finding new green initiatives to battle the effects of pollutants in the air are more important than ever. This goes beyond just great electric vehicles (EV). It also encompasses renovating our transportation infrastructure so it will better accommodate the new ways in which we get around. That’s where Vehicle-to-Government (V2Gov) practices come into play as well as important legislation to get things like the FAST Act ratified and keeping transportation in step with the 21st century.

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