Eyes on the future, we left gaps in the past

Posted: Thursday, April 05, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) -- In its feverish quest to develop magical electronic devices during the great expansion, America overlooked and bypassed some of the more mundane ingredients of a sound economy.

Such as adequate power. It developed the computer and the Internet and hundreds of ingenious electronic devices -- and the factories to make them -- but it failed to develop enough power to keep the lights on everywhere.

It created amazing global positioning devices to track the shipment of goods, but it failed to keep the interstate highway system up to date and in good repair. And urban traffic, says a highway group, is worse off.

Railroad modernization also lagged. Japan and France, most notably, ran high-speed trains years before Americans inaugurated the Acela bullet train on just one corridor, from Washington to Boston.

Bigger and faster aircraft were built, but technological ingenuity was insufficient to the task of finding room over the busiest airports to avoid time-consuming traffic snarls, especially in inclement weather.

And now the ultimate delinquency: The high-tech industries have created wireless communication marvels able to turn on your oven and access the Internet, but we may not have enough radio spectrum for them.

Three Federal agencies report that there just isn't enough room on the radio spectrum to easily accommodate these wireless devices without cutting the share assigned to schools and national security.

Potential shortages of the sort now facing the nation were recognized long ago, but the country, totally engrossed in the marvelous, profitable and forever-new world of electronics, didn't have time for such worries.

Amtrak now says it can develop additional corridors, but that it might require $10 billion over 10 years.

The Road Information Program, financed mainly by highway builders, says one-third of 850,000 miles of urban roadways are in poor or mediocre condition, costing drivers an average of $141 a year in wear and tear.

And the nation's power system -- 3,000 plants and 201,243 miles of high voltage transmission lines -- even now may be near its limits, posing a monumental challenge to a quickening pace of economic expansion.

It could mean that America's high-tech geniuses will be faced as much with correcting the omissions of the past as with the possibilities of the future.

And with getting the most out of each strand of wire, each fraction of the radio spectrum, each gallon of gasoline, and each mile of rail and pavement.

End Adv PMs Tuesday, April 3.

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