The Silly Season Begins…

Labor Day is the traditional start of US political campaigns and the associated silliness of political speeches.  Evan Sparks’ Aviation Policy Blog pointed to a speech by Barack Obama in which he lauds Chinese investment in travel infrastructure — airports, train systems — and asks “Why aren’t we doing the same thing?”  It’s a good question, if lack of money was the only thing delaying needed improvements in the US.

Let’s look at one example with which Obama should be familiar — the long delay in starting the desperately needed runway expansion of Chicago’s O’Hare airport.  The start of the O’Hare Moderization Program was delayed by competing proposals from two Obama backers — Chicago’s Mayor Richard M. Daley and Obama’s national co-chairman US Rep Jesse Jackson, Jr.  The dispute was all about control of patronage dollars.  Daley wanted to expand O’Hare while Jackson wanted to build a third Chicago airport in the far south suburb of Peotone, IL– run by an airport commission controlled by Jackson’s allies.  The O’Hare program is now delayed by legal fights — one about relocating a 159-year-old cemetary that sits in the middle of a new runways, another about 500 of the 2,500 homes in neighboring suburbs that must be torn down to make way for the new runways.  The O’Hare delays haven’t been about money.  They’ve been about political clout, and allowing citizens to exercise their rights to appeal eminent domain decisions.

Environmental impact statements, citizen NIMBY (not in my back yard) lawsuits, political interference — these are the issues delaying expansion of our airports, not lack of investment.  Will a President Obama reduce environmental regulations, limit citizens’ (and their lawyers’) access to courts, or reign in members of the Democratic-controlled US Congress?  I don’t think so — anymore than a President McCain would.  The point Obama makes earlier in the clip — “[Chinese ]ports, [Chinese] train systems, [Chinese] airports are vastly superior to us now, which means if you are a corporation deciding where to do business, you’re starting to think, ‘Beijing looks like a pretty good option.'” — is exactly on target.  The inability to meet the demand for new transportation capacity impacts our nation’s economic health.  In an earlier podcast episode, we talked about the FAA’s FACT 2 study which predicts 18 airports  and 7 metro areas will need additional capacity by 2015.  Money is important, but it’s not the rate-limiting factor here.  Obama is a smart guy and I’m sure he understands this. I just wish he wouldn’t pander to the silly season’s need for sound bites and instead talk about some real solutions to these real problems.

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  1. That’s an excellent read on the situation, Mark. The Chinese got to where they are because of their political system, a system that is the polar opposite of our own.

  2. Airports in China

    China has 400 airports under construction, Has their Aviation ministry designing planes to compete with Boeing. AND now building 20 oil refineries. ITS’ GOING TO BE A COLD WINTER IN CHICAGO WHEN THE OIL RUNS OUT IN 2050.

  3. Can we quote excerpts from this commentary of yours in a new article that I am writing about Senator Obama? Your commentary proves the argument of many Obama critics that even in Illinois, he did nothing really outstanding as a leader.

  4. This article is very misleading and a disservice. It ignores the fact that decades ago Congress passed many Acts to fund the development of our transportation system in the United States and that transportation system, while not perfect, has allowed our economy to flourish for decades.

    It ignores the fact that airports and air traffic generate a significant amount of noise and air pollution and the health risks are not fully known or disclosed. It ignores the fact that in the U.S., laws exist to protect people’s health, the environment and property. It ignores the fact that China faces growing environmental challenges and damages that are harmful to the health of their people. It ignores the fact the China is a developing nation and the U.S. is a developed nation.
    It ignores the fact that the United States has had a regressive policy on developing a national high speed rail system.

    It ignores the fact that China has many competitive advantages over the United States, among them lower labor costs and a society that is educating its younger people for a new world in which the US is not as well prepared to compete, particularly in areas requiring education in math and science.

    I am tired of airport expansion proponents who claim the local economies are going to fall due to lack of investment in airports, and the political greed to control funds for airport development.

    The economies in the US are failing for reasons of unbalanced economic policies, high energy costs, an uncompetitive labor force, better trained and educated workers overseas, and development of a two class system as the middle class continues to shrink and each year higher numbers of families are left with less disposable income for consumption and investment.

    Airports alone are not going to solve this country’s economic woes, and demand for transportation capacity will be met one way or another.