Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

Transportation policy in heavy traffic

February 1, 2012 by David Thornburgh


Editor's note: Mr. Thornburgh moderated a conversation with some of the nation’s most thoughtful national transportation leaders on February 2nd, 2012 at the National Constitution Center. Click here to see photos from the event and the play button below to hear the full podcast.


Image via Wikimedia Commons

There are few issues that (literally) bring Americans together like transportation. In planes, trains, and automobiles we get to work, to play, and, over the river and through the woods, to spend time with family and friends. Complaining about traffic jams and commuter delays is almost a national pastime.

That our “always on” global economy relies on the sophisticated web of logistics and transportation came home to me today when the item I ordered yesterday at 4pm on Amazon showed up at my door today at 2pm. (Soon, I guess, my order will arrive before I place it?). And yet we look out over the transportation landscape and see gloom and gridlock. Endless reports (punctuated by nightmares like the bridge collapse in Minneapolis a few years back) point out that our so-called system is creaking, groaning and rusting in front of our eyes. What about Washington?

At a recent meeting of the Transportation Research Board in Washington, Secretary Ray LaHood subdued the crowd by suggesting it was "very unlikely" that a transportation reauthorization bill will pass during the current session of Congress. Apparently the numbing political gridlock of our times – what a recent Politico article alluded to in a recent piece called Modern Washington: Death of a Deal – is preventing a reasonable transportation  funding approach from moving through Congress.

Practically speaking, where do we go from here? That’s what I hope to find out this Thursday at the National Constitution Center when, together, we kick off a series of programs commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Fels Institute of Government at the University of Pennsylvania. (If you can’t make it to the Center, be sure to follow our live tweeting of the event at

We at Fels pride ourselves on our practical, can-do focus and the impact of our 1,800 living graduates at all levels of government. In that spirit, let’s see if a well-informed, straightforward conversation, outside the Beltway, can identify some practical ways we can get this thing moving. There’s a lot riding on it.

David B.Thornburgh is the Executive Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government.

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