Are We Making Progress?

How often do you travel? This is a marvelous age; we can be almost anywhere in the world (outside the Arctic and Antarctic Circles) in under 24 hours. And yet…

I travel internationally about once a year, and in three of my last six overseas trips I’ve been delayed by the airlines; twice I’ve lost a full day of vacation time. How did transportation become less reliable?

Delays in eagerly awaited trips can cause some critical thinking. In my lifetime (75 years so far), I’ve seen a lot of progress. Interstate highways, personal computers, the Internet, and cell phones are some of the innovations that have made my life easier. Specifically regarding travel, think back 100 years: no controlled-access highways, no jet airliners, no vehicles with seat belts… travel was certainly more difficult and dangerous.

But now think back 50 years. By 1973, those innovations were in place, and getting around wasn’t such a time-consuming chore. If we had experienced the same level of progress from 1973 to today that we did from 1923 to 1973, how much easier would travel be?

To put it simply, we’ve stopped progressing. Highways are more congested (it takes longer to get to the airport), and airline delays are more frequent. The temptation is always to assume things will get better, but that’s no longer the case.

The problem is our infrastructure. According to “Longer Commutes, Shorter Lives: The Costs of Not Investing in America” by David Leonhardt (, the scheduled flight time between Los Angeles and New York has become about 30 minutes longer, thanks to more crowded skies. Driving cross-country is no quicker. And when was the last time you even considered traveling by train?

Some think the government spends too much money already. But our infrastructure is a matter of productivity. It’s actually an investment in our economy that will pay back in greater efficiencies.

President Biden’s trillion-dollar infrastructure law, passed with bipartisan support, is a promising start. But we have a long way to go, especially compared to other first-world nations. If you don’t believe me, try traveling.

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