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Our painful lessons in transportation’s importance

By - Last modified: May 17, 2013 at 10:56 AM
Hope Stephan
Hope Stephan

Amazing what one overturned-and-burned truck can do to the commute for thousands of other drivers. It’s amazing, too, how quickly PennDOT got the traffic flowing again last week after a diesel tanker basically melted the 322/81 overpass in Dauphin County and sent drivers searching desperately for alternative routes for close to five full days.

Getting in, out or around Harrisburg was bad enough for the locals, but in the bumper-to-bumper crawl, the misery and confusion of the out-of-state drivers, if you looked over at the next car, was painful to see.

Does it comfort you to know that traffic is actually declining nationally? The mass media echo chamber was reverberating last week with the news that millennials – the generation born between 1978 and 2000 – just aren’t much into driving. They prefer biking, using mass transit and – gasp! – walking. I like those things, too, but I hate to think I’m showing my age by saying the day I got my driver’s license is still probably the most important day in my life and I dread the day I give that license up.

The decline in driving made great headlines, but the real story is more complex, of course. It involves not just changing attitudes but retiring baby boomers, the economy and the Internet (and what doesn’t involve that, anymore?).

Those opting for the economy as the driving force (ouch) behind the trend say that once people can afford to drive more again, they will.

That would be good news for government and traffic engineers. They’ve been worrying for some time now about how to pay for roads and bridges. Among the many other traditional payment models collapsing around us, user taxes like driver’s license fees, gasoline taxes and tolls have become inadequate as a transportation funding source. Fewer miles driven – whether it’s fewer trips, better miles per gallon or alternative fuels – means less revenue not only for maintenance and new projects but for the mass transit systems the rising generation prizes.

Speaking of transportation, Gov. Corbett’s office sent a news release out Tuesday afternoon noting that the week of May 12-18 was National Transportation Week, “commemorated annually to raise public awareness about the importance of transportation to our cities, states and nation.”

Thanks, but I think we figured that out on our own last week.

The week ahead

Coming up in Friday’s Business Journal, we’ll show you how the sequester is turning into an opportunity for financial institutions, and we’ll take you inside a midstate company turning itself around after exiting bankruptcy court last year.

Also coming up:

Monday: Lebanon Valley chamber Lunch & Learn workshop, 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m.; Laura Stocker of Tin Cans Unlimited LLC, “Tune Up Your Online Presence.”

Tuesday: Mechanicsburg chamber after-hours mixer, 5-7 p.m.

Wednesday: Harrisburg Regional chamber workshop, 9-11 a.m., “Marketing: Creating Your Message to Gain and Maintain Customers.”

Thursday: West Shore chamber mixer, 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

Thursday: Harrisburg Regional chamber 2013 Governor’s Breakfast: 7:30-9 a.m.

Thursday: Governor’s Impact Awards, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Hershey Lodge

And don’t forget Tuesday is Primary Day in Pennsylvania.

The rewind

On the topic of demographics, here’s a positive item from the Associated Press – small-business owners are finally getting to retire, and that’s driving a trend.

And in case you missed it, reporter Tim Stuhldreher’s blog Tuesday offered an interesting look inside the Corbett administration’s energy policy and what the governor means when he talks about “energy independence” for the commonwealth. It’s not as off-the-wall as it sounds.

Last week, I wrote about Google Glass, a tiny computer display worn like a pair of glasses, and the fears fostered by the new technology. U.S. Rep Michele Bachman wasn’t afraid to give it a try. I wonder what her House colleagues thought.


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