Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Then and Now -- Road Work

I grew up in the ‘50s, in the days when America was unquestionably #1 in the world and when we still believed that the Horatio T. Alger story was possible.  So did the authors of  this new book (That Used to be Us:  How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented...), which I started today.  After just reading the introduction, I was suddenly filled with things I wanted to write about THEN and NOW.  Instead of dumping all of these ideas into one post, I decided to deal with one thing a day until my list is exhausted.
The book opens with Tom Friedman comparing a construction project in China to one in his neighborhood.  He notes that in a rather remote area of China, a huge civic center sort of complex with a lot of bells and whistles was constructed start to finish in a mere 5 months.  Whereas at his Bethesda Metro stop, the repair of the two escalators exceeded 6 months.  He was most disturbed by the fact that instead of complaining about the inconvenience and unreasonable period of time, the Metro riders complacently accepted this as the new norm.
I have noticed a similar trend with road work.  The project to repave the small stretch of road around the Lincoln Memorial took many months with nightly road closures.  As has the work on Rock Creek Parkway that continues, often with no workers in evidence but lanes closed off.  Granted a few workers get paid longer this way, but what about the thousands of people who commute on these roads daily?  Like the Metro riders, I too have become conditioned to these ridiculously long repair schedules and simply sit in traffic complaining about it.
I wonder if it’s additional bureaucracy that stretches these jobs out so long.  Or if workers are not being totally productive.  Or what it is that makes us look so incredibly slow when stacked up against the Chinese, who probably don’t have access to much of the technology we take for granted.  
This is just one of many symptoms of our fall from grandeur.  Stay tuned...


Blogger Steve Reed said...

I don't doubt that greater bureaucracy and permitting requirements slow down projects in America. There may also be a higher degree of corruption in China -- I'm sure if you grease the right palms you can get things done fast there. (That's just a hunch on my part.)

But it sounds like the difference might also have to do with usage. The two road projects you mention are in busy areas used heavily by commuters, while Friedman's example is in "a rather remote" part of China. Crowds and population slow down construction because of safety concerns and a need to keep roads open during the day while they undergo construction at night.

Sounds like a fascinating book!

8:50 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Steve -- I would like to believe the excuses you are giving the road people are legitimate. But so much of the time it seems like no work is being done. I think there is more going on here.

Maybe I could bribe them to work faster, but that would require me to find them first... :)

6:50 PM  

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