Sunday, April 19, 2009 | Recently the US Department of Defense completed an in depth evaluation of its probable future operations needs and associated weapons developments. Recognizing the transition from mutual assured destruction cold war prospects to future undeclared “irregular wars” needs involving terrorists, and stateless organizations, commendably there is emphasis on new technologies to replace brute force engagements. Example; successes with unmanned weapon delivery of hitting missiles. Recognizing inevitable fund limitations, there has been extensive use of cost effective criteria for new weapon development priorities and their relative value considering joint interaction with the overall strategy.

Why don’t we have an equivalent interactive overview for the nation’s future transportation facilities and operations supported by objective facts based analysis? Military’s interface with day to day civilian activities differs to be sure, but all told transportation requires even more funds. In many areas it supports military needs directly. “Blue Ribbon” Committees have dealt more with raising funds to continue more of the same roads and transit, without identifying technology driven major new systems intended to absorb inevitable growth, and reduce energy use, land use and pollution. Transportation clings to concepts 100 years or more old. Meantime other forms of communication, and the military have prospered taking advantage of several generations of technology-based improvement. Many urban areas choke in congestion despite $ billions spent for facilities not meeting modern productive traveler needs. USDOT agrees the annual congestion cost approaches $200 billion. (San Diego’s “share” is $ 1.7 billion) The outgoing Transportation Secretary says development decisions are politicized, and there is no overreaching plan for correction. Cities are supposed to express needs, but often are prevented by charter from using “unproven technology”. National highway support comes from one Agency, unrelated to the one supporting mass transit. Clearly there is need for coordinating investments into different modes reflecting cost effective facts based analysis taking advantage of new technologies beginning to appear.

Does “Change” in Washington mean a better approach? First indicators are not assuring. After some last minute politics to tweak the stimulus package with $8 billion for a minor player, high-speed rail, it was announced without meaningful rationale as the centerpiece for transportation’s future. Faced with current fiscal crisis to fund its own miss-matched transportation facilities, can San Diego showcase how to recover and reorient its development operations and organizations while learning from the Department of Defense approach?

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