It's easily one of the most famous roadways in the world. A road so famous that tourists travel from around the globe just to drive on it. Germany's Autobahn has inspired motoring enthusiasts for decades, and has led to countless Americans wanting one built here in the United States. And while recently casually chatting about the prospects of an American Autobahn with friends, something struck me... if we were to build an American Autobahn, we could end the recession and cause one of the most exciting periods of economic growth this nation has ever seen.
Just sit back and think about this for a moment, and you'll see what I mean. It would be a public works project the likes of which the world has never seen. Local, State, and Federal governments contributing alongside private enterprise, and with elements of community service blended into the mix, would make this so affordable, so perfectly feasible, that you'll sit forward again wondering why we haven't already built this thing!
Let's flip the imagination switch and come up with a broad concept of what the American Autobahn would ideally be (and please do comment below with your own ideas!). I'm going to call my creation "Liberty One" and "Liberty Two" (because we'd need one "coming" and one "going" roadway); let's call them the "L1" and "L2" for short. Both of these roadways would be four lanes wide. The furthest-right lane would be the "exiting lane," with a 55 MPH speed limit. Exits to destinations and to rest areas (which we'll discuss in a moment) will break off of the exit lane, though this would be a continuous lane like the others (you can drive past an exit in this lane). The next lane would have an 75 MPH speed limit, designed for slower-moving traffic and for merging. The two lanes to the left would have recommended speeds, but instead of having maximum speed limits, they'd have minimum speed limits of 65 MPH. Between the L1 and L2, there would be a special highway for large vehicles only (eighteen-wheelers, busses, RV's, etc.), with two lanes per direction. They'd run in a continuous loop around the country, with New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, and Washington DC being the seven "primary destinations" along the route. And because it's continuous, you could get on in New York City, drive around the country, and end your trip right back where you started.
Local and State governments would be allowed to build their own rest areas, with the private sector providing food, fuel, and lodging accommodations in those rest areas, and paying leasing fees for the privilege. These rest areas would make it so that drivers could get on the L1 or L2 and drive in a non-stop loop around the country, without ever having to take an exit. There would also be special service exits for emergency and road services, so that police, fire, medical, maintenance,and other crews have quick and easy access to the highways.
Using either the L1 or L2 would cost a one-time fee of $50 per vehicle. There would be no tolls and no stops... once you get on the road, you only stop when you feel like stopping, and you could literally drive laps around the continental United States to your heart's content for that single fee. Businesses would pay leasing fees to set up shop in rest areas, and companies that regularly rely on the roads for commercial shipping would pay special taxes. Also, all goods sold in the rest areas would endure a special sales tax. With these features, the taxpayer's expense would be quite minimal.
Here's where things get particularly interesting. Building the L1 and L2 grant us the perfect excuse to flex our green muscles. We could create a green initiative panel to regulate construction methods and to make the building of the American Autobahn as environmentally-friendly as possible. Fueling stations in rest areas could be mandated to sell alternative fuels alongside gasoline; hydrogen and ethanol come immediately to mind. Speaking of those rest areas, why don't we take them off of local and state grids, building wind turbines and solar panel farms to power them, with excess energy returning to those local and state grids? All of the buildings, as well as the highway itself, would be built with absolute efficiency and safety at the heart of the construction efforts, making this not just another highway, but a proper modern marvel.
Okay, now that the dreaming is out of the way, let's get down to the gritty political aspect of building an American Autobahn. Here's the bottom line: taxpayers are going to be picking up the tab for most of the construction efforts, and while the project would mostly pay for itself, there would still be some tax money entering the Autobahn annually. Liberals are going to voice concerns over the environmental impacts, while conservatives will complain that the Federal Government shouldn't be entrusted with such a project. But I think we can all agree on one thing here: building an American Autobahn would end the recession. This project could easily create millions of new jobs, without contest. Engineers, construction workers and general labor, emergency service workers, service industry professionals, security and safety professionals, energy people... the list of personnel we'd need to build thing thing would be tremendous. We'd need Federal employees (most being temporary, though), the private sector would employ millions of new workers, and we could even include volunteer work, with community volunteers working to plant flowers and trees alongside the roads and to help "beautify" their local stretch of highway in a way that speaks to their own unique regional sub-culture. With serious mobilization, the American Autobahn could be build within ten to fifteen years, and in that time, our economy would blossom in ways we haven't seen since the end of the second World War.
You can sum up why this project hasn't been done yet in one word: politics. Politicians are always locked away in a perpetual campaign, and it's difficult to look at your constituents with a straight face and tell them that we need to spend billions of dollars on a world-changing, truly historic public works project. But I'm certain that I'm not the only person out there who wants to see the construction of an American Autobahn in a timely-enough fashion that they could drive on it in their own lifetime. If we really want to see this dream come true, it needs to escape the legislative battlefield and make its way into mainstream political debate. With all of the frivolous topics we often toss back and forth in the midst of political discourse, why can't we attempt to accomplish something meaningful that our great grandchildren can one day appreciate? I say we build an American Autobahn. I say we start working on it today. And I'd be lying to you if I said that the recession was my primary motive here. The truth is pretty simple, folks: I like to drive cars. And at the end of the day, this would be the ultimate place for me to do that.