Disgusted with gridlock and the politics of Washington, DC when it comes to the infrastructure spend, I headed into it and towards it. On a hot and humid Wednesday morning in May I began the shlep through Boston’s morning rush. As I rolled onto the Mass Pike I felt the glare of workers starting their daily driving grind. Peering out of hermetically sealed cockpits, where music was streaming and the AC blowing, they looked like they’d seen the ghost of commuter’s past.
I was traveling alongside them in Mrs. Martin, a 1949 Hudson Commodore 8, wondering if they felt me the fool or themselves. Me because old cars are driven on the weekends. Me because I was all ass-and-elbows shifting, clutching and otherwise working the old girl through traffic. Me because I was sweating on the mohair wool front seat which resembles a living-room couch of the 1940s. Or was it them because they have the infrastructure they deserve rendering them and their modern automobiles as useless in traffic the 65-year-old rusting antique mocking them to demand better.
The Low & Slow Across America’s Infrastructure tour began with an unofficial 500 plus mile shakedown cruise down the Eastern Seaboard. With more fits and starts than a vintage automobile we’ve toured Boston and its New England villages before we headed to New York City, Philadelphia and finally arriving at the Nation’s Capital five days later to deliver a message: “America’s infrastructure is as old, rusty and energy defunct as my Detroit lead sled.”
As a former White House Appointee to the United States Department of Transportation I reluctantly agreed to a Washington, DC kickoff. In the years since my public service I’ve become cynical of politics and their politicians, believing that Washington, DC is a cancer without a cure.
During yet another slog in a morning rush (Boston, New York City, Philadelphia were traffic jammed too), Aileen Cho, Senior Editor at ENR and now my colleague in expeditionary journalism, took in the bumper-to-bumper flow along the Potomac River. Then we came to a stand still on K Street, Massachusetts Avenue, and New York Avenue. Finally, we began to move with ease onto West Virginia Avenue. Turning into the site of our launch, however, I had a moment of affirmation. As the names of the boulevards we traveled reminded me, DC is the center of the nation’s collective action. In this town citizens of state’s demand better of politicians and the local, state and federal governments they’re supposed to manage on our behalf.
We the people of the Low & Slow Across America’s Infrastrucure tour are raising awareness of the need to build and rebuild our vital infrastructure. If not the professionals across the land who plan, design, build, and maintain these systems than who is responsible for showing the nation what is failing and why we must reverse the momentum of this crisis?
Bill Howland, Director of the Department of Public Works for the District of Columbia, greeted, applauded and then dispatched us with the burden to raise the American standard in our local civic engineering endeavors. This coming from a man who has served four Washington, DC mayors and still feels he as the best job in America - keeping the country’s capital running - its vital infrastructure vital. After showing us by example how DC is embracing the future by exemplifying the use of alternative fuels in many of his 4,000 plus fleet of vehicles, the Director kicked us out of DC on to our tour while ceremoniously launching the 55th annual National Public Works Week with an official proclamation to, “...strengthen our economic competitiveness by ensuring safe, clean and aesthetic neighborhoods and public space.” I call the affidavit from Washington, DC a demand for better grass root engineering.