No. Not the country, the bird.  Even thought both are sharing news headlines this week.

First off:  Happy Thanksgiving!  I hope you are able to spend it with someone or some people you enjoy being with.  If not, drink heavily and surf YouTube until you pass out.  That always works.

Today’s random thought is brought to you by Family Idiosyncrasies.  The source for American therapy profit for decades.

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What If?

I’ve brought this topic up before, but this time I’m going to sneak around and smack it in the head from a different angle.  What is this topic I elude to?  High-speed transportation between metro areas which are more than 3 hours drive apart.

Case in point:  Washington DC-Metro area and Hampton Roads, Virginia.

The two most densely populated areas in the state of Virginia.  They are closely tied in some respects (government, military, commerce) and entirely different as well (social construct, demographic, climate, housing).  But if you ask ten random people who live and work in the DC area what they think about that experience, at least nine of them will express some dislike for it.  Usually it comes down to two key complaints:  Cost of living, and Sucky-ass transportation bottlenecks.

If you ask ten random people in Hampton Roads the same question, they will offer a somewhat “Yang” to the DC “Yin”.  That is, lack of career opportunities, and suck-ass-transportation bottlenecks.  That’s right, we both hate our 19th century transportation challenges.  Even after a U.S. Navy Admiral commented on this around 14 years ago on live TV, nothing much has been done to address his concern about “traffic congestion makes for an easy terrorist target”.  But I’m not going in that direction right now.

So, the way it shapes up now is that there are roughly ten times the job opportunities posted on most employment search sites (Monster, Dice, Indeed, SimplyHired, etc.) in the DC area as there are in Hampton Roads.  That’s an average across all industries and career categories.  The pay scales are significantly higher in the DC area as well.  But housing and cost of living are much cheaper in Hampton Roads, by comparison.  Hampton Roads also ranks higher on most criteria for public schools, outdoor recreation, and climate (DC is closer to the Appalachian ridge and enjoys more snow annually than Hampton Roads)

So, what if… it were possible (purely hypothetical, of course) to travel by some sort of high-speed system from one place to the other in an hour or less, AND what if it only cost as much as riding a local city bus?

That could open a huge flood gate for people to live in Hampton Roads, while working in the DC area.  Rather than having to travel once per week (as many I know do now), it would then be practical to travel daily.  Imagine if you could get from home to work between say, Norfolk and Arlington, in the same time it now takes to drive from Virginia Beach to Newport News or Williamsburg?

Imagine what this could do to the real estate market?  The tax base, retail revenue stream, entertainment, and yes, local traffic congestion as well.  Two spoons of gravy and one lump always rides along.  Imagine the effect that could have on both ends of that route?  The employee talent pool on both ends would open up and eventually even-out.  The same goes for salaries.  Employers in Hampton Roads would have to compete more directly with DC area employers and that would be interesting indeed.  Right now, employers can relax on the assumption that their employees would have to consider relocation in order to pursue a job in DC.  If that train were up and running, that assumption would be gone.

Of course, this is all pie-in-the-sky, since no one at either end seems to have any interest whatsoever in chasing this idea.  People in both metro regions seem perfectly content dealing with the highway status-quo.  The back-ups at tunnels and bridges.  The break-downs.  The gradually increasing tolls.  The wandering, absent-minded texting drivers.  Why change when it’s been working all this time?

Costs?

Construction would likely involve right-of-way assessments, property buy-outs, environmental impact studies, on and on.  Then there’s the material costs, the operating costs, and the insurance costs.  There would also be regulatory aspects, and the good-old public-private balance that needs to be determined.

Virginia Beach alone has been “studying” light rail potential since the 1990’s.  Some day they might actually come to a decision.  For now, it’s flushing piles of cash down the study-toilet until someone figures out what to do.

Buy another aircraft carrier?  Another set of bomber planes?  No problem.  Suggest spending 1/4 of that on improving our own transportation screw-up?  Forget it.  We place more value on getting a sports franchise or a race car track than investing in our kids’ future quality of life.  It’s one thing to get them through college, but when they’re your age, imagine how much worse driving around will be if we don’t start working to improve it now?  Silly me.  Just buy them another tablet or smartphone and that’ll keep them distracted.

So. What if?

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