Finally, It Really Is Infrastructure Week

An American Abroad

And so it is, approximately four years after President Trump promised to spend one week promoting the need for infrastructure investment, a deal has been struck between Democrats and some Republicans, six months into the term of President Joe Biden. And we have always been told career politicians are un-desirable.

The deal is not done yet. The macaroni has not been cooked, as they say in state Capitols and in Washington, D.C., as legislation moves through the process, but it is looking good. It’s about time. As Americans, we can do better. We should be keeping up with the rest of the world and we have not been keeping up.

This dispatch comes from Torshavn, the capital of the Faroe Islands. The archipelago of the Faroe Islands is a tiny nation that you can drive the bulk of in a day and half. The only thing that would slow you down is the need to take ferries to reach some of the outer islands.

I know it is not a fair comparison; the Faroe Islands vs. the United States on roads, bridges, highways, airports and seaports — but these people know something about all of it. This morning I was half-way through a six kilometer undersea tunnel, between islands, when I came to a traffic circle which gave me the option to continue — under the sea — in a completely different direction for another few kilometers. I am not talking about a narrow tunnel dug out with pick axes and hand shovels. This is a massive, wide, well maintained, well lighted, and even decorated with special lighting — underwater super highway.

The Faroe Islands, as you might expect, have excellent access to the sea, a small but modern and efficient airport, and a network of hard to build, but well-maintained roads that twist and turn along the coast and into the higher elevations; serving both humans and sheep well.

A week earlier, I was in Iceland. Another, small island nation, in a challenging climate, trimmed at the top by the Arctic Circle. Here too; modern airport. Efficient. Roads that are well designed and well maintained. In both nations, where there are tolls, they are taken painlessly and electronically without the need to stop. Speed is monitored the same way. And on a related subject, both countries operate essentially without cash when transacting personal business, like buying gas or groceries. When tourists pull out cash, there is a moment of panic, not unlike your average Starbucks in the United States.

The point in painting this picture for you is not to make a direct comparison, the point is to ask how we might challenge ourselves to do better. We don’t always have to look overseas for inspiration, but there are times when that would be worth the effort.

Let’s start here though. Which airports are the three best in the United States? Let’s take those designs and re-create them wherever an airpot in the U.S. needs to be re-built. If there is a better example outside of our country, then let’s think about going that route.

What’s the deal with trains and metro systems? Why are trains in Europe, China and Japan so much better, cleaner and faster than ours and how do we fix it?

Roads and bridges? Okay, here is a place where I don’t mind making a comparison to Iceland and the Faroe Islands. If it can be done here, it can be done anywhere. This should be easy for us as Americans. The rest of the world looked to us and improved on our own interstate system when designing their roads and bridges. We used to be the highway kings.

This is not hard. It is expensive, but it is the reason we pay taxes. Conservatives! You are always pointing out that it is not the government’s money, it’s the taxpayers’ money. You are right, and here is how and where we want a big portion of it spent. We want to keep up with the rest of the world. We don’t want a quaint transportation system that reminds us of the last century, we want the best system our money can buy.

Broadband is infrastructure. While in Iceland, I was fully connected no matter where I was and I was in some places where there was no one for miles. I never had less than a bar on my phone and I could always get online. I had my doubts about the Faroe Islands, but when my plane landed, the pinwheel on my phone made a few revolutions, and bingo, bam or boom, I was connected.

I did an afternoon video conference call from downtown Torshavn, yet a few months ago, when I drove through parts of rural America, I may have well as been in….I don’t know…where else does the world lag in connectedness? Kabul? No, that’s probably a bad example, because we probably wired Kabul during our time there.

I am not an America stinks, everywhere else is better, kind of person. Usually, by the end of a trip, I can’t wait to get back home. This time was no different. But “come on, man” as President Biden might say, this is easy stuff. This is basic stuff. It’s why we pay our taxes. And if we are going to spend the money, let’s be the best in the world so that we can compete with the rest of the world.

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Dean Pagani

Dean Pagani

Photojournalism for Brands and Ideas.