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Friday, September 12, 2008

The American Highway

In Arlington, the Pentagon unveiled its permanent 9/11 Memorial, a park with benches and small pools, one for each person that died on that site in the attack. I find it modern but simple, and quietly powerful. A fitting tribute in deed. But there was another tribute I saw today.

Driving down I-95 on my way from work to practice for the football team I coach, I noticed something unusual. There were about five American flags and what looked like a military color guard on the overpass of Vollmerhausen Road. I guess it's suburban Maryland's own quirky way of doing a 9-11 tribute.

I-495 South at Powder Mill Road
Originally uploaded by F1RSTBORN

I distinctly remember the first time I saw flags on the overpasses on I-95. It was when I returned to Maryland from Army training, about to be stationed at Fort Meade. I thought it was a strange tribute, but a highly visible one. Apart from the high visibility (I-95 is one of the most traveled highways in the world), I wonder if there was any specific reason that this began taking place.

9/11 is a very close to home topic for me. On that tragic date, I was in Basic Combat Training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. I had joined the Army exactly four weeks earlier. In basic training, there was no TV, no radio, no newspaper, and no phone calls. We received word from our first sergeant, And I didn't get to watch the news until October 25th after I graduated. That whole time I lived in fear and uncertainty, relying on my commander for information. I opine that I might have missed out on the "cultural experience" of 9/11. But it's a day that hangs heavy in my heart.

I also served in both Afghanistan and Iraq during my four years in service, and I have lost a couple of friends in each theater. All politics aside, seeing the flag being shown to everyone gave me a bit of a sense of pride and comfort.

But I wonder, why overpasses? I can't help but think that the Interstate Highway System is something in which our country takes a lot of pride. Rooted in national defense, I believe that to date it is the largest public works project in history. It is also so quintessentially American: huge, luxurious, pervasive, and universal.

On Ryan Avent's blog this week, a discussion of speed limit caps for automobiles spurned quite a bit of tension, that people in the cities were unaware of rural lifestyle for advocating such a cap, which in turn started a dialog on elitism as it pertains to urban planning (in particular, the highways).

Love them or hate them, the highways are completely intertwined with the daily life of every single American. We can (and should) mitigate the urban sprawl that they facilitate, we can (and should) decrease the number of cars and the amount of fuel used on them, and we can (and should) be smart about building and maintaining them. We can definitely even stand to decommission of a few of them. But right now, There are few things more American than our highways. They are our grandest structures and our most used resource. And considering how much they have enabled this nation to accomplish, we ought to take a great deal of pride in them. More importantly, we should continue to evolve them to meet the changing needs of the nation. Perhaps one day we will use this project as a model for a high speed rail network.

Best to all of you and your families. God bless America.

1 comment:

F1RSTBORN said...

:-) I'm proud that my photo can be associated with such a well written blog entry. I can relate to the impact given my past military service as well and find that you have made several valid points. Kudos my friend.