The Importance of Transportation Infrastructure

By Debbie Hersman

Today, I was scheduled to speak at a rail conference in New York City. However, like so many other travelers, my plans changed in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, with rampant power failures, flooded subway tunnels and cancelled flights at the region’s airports. For many people in the northeast hardest hit by the powerful storm, homes were damaged, belongings were destroyed and most tragic of all, lives have been lost. For millions of others, this has been a week of remembering the basic services and infrastructure that all too often, are taken for granted. Watching the news reports of New Yorkers coping without so much of their transportation infrastructure has been a powerful reminder of its importance.

Transportation does more than get us to and from work. It is the backbone of our economy. Transportation gets goods to market and gets us to markets to get the goods. It keeps us connected with friends and family. It makes us mobile, which adds to our quality of life. At the NTSB, we are very familiar with examining low-probability, high-consequence events that affect the travelling public. Events such as this, like our accident investigations, provide opportunities to evaluate, assess and identify improvements to prevent or minimize damage in future catastrophes.

Looking beyond the super storm and New York City, our nation relies on transportation infrastructure that includes some 600,000 bridges, nearly 4 million miles of public roads, 2.6 million miles of oil and gas pipelines, 120,000 miles of major railroads, and more than 25,000 miles of commercially navigable waterways. All of it is important and all of it needs to be maintained to ensure safety.

My hat is off to all the local, regional and national transportation leaders who do such much to build, maintain and, as we’re seeing after the super storm, to rebuild transportation infrastructure.

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