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October 15th, 2008
America in Gridlock
[VIDEO] Flying Blind

With rare access into the control tower of O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, a look at how America’s air transportation system –- once a source of national pride –- has become a frustrating example of the country’s struggling infrastructure. In the fourth segment of a five part series on infrastructure in the U.S., PBS NewsHour Senior Correspondent Ray Suarez reports with Blueprint America on the crowded skies above.

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America’s 2008 air transportation needs are currently met with 1980s technology, resulting in all too familiar gridlock both on the ground and in the skies. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) estimates that air traffic will double in the next two decades. But even before rising fuel prices hammered airlines and their margins, the infrastructure that our airlines is built on – runways, flight paths and air traffic control technology – was already inadequate, outmoded and unable to grow its capacity. A planned upgrade announced in 2004 will not be completed until at least 2020 – at a cost of more than $20 billion.

  • bob previdi

    In the 8 largest northeast USA airports we could eliminate 15% of the flights that travel just between these airports. This could relieve congestion, reduce GHG emmissions and help by us buy time until we decide what the next major transporation enhancement is. The problem with this kind of thinking is that nobody in the federal government or at the state levels is thinking about shrinking flights in favor of increasing Amtrak service. That is far and away out of the scope of work charged to the FAA or any airport affiliated organziaton.
    I estimate that if we tried to reduce the amount of flights between the 8 northeast airports by half – we would have to double the amount of Amtrak service. Are we ready? We need a greater political will, the kind of will that openned up the interstate highway system – but in this case we need to find ways to reduce airport and highway congestion and figure out ways to increase rail. What kind of rail can be debated but some kind of land based vehicles that will pollute less and move more people.

  • George Davis

    Today was my first viewing of this series, America in Gridlock, on TV. I have come to the website to see earlier reports in the series. What seems to be missing in this series is a look at the impending gridlock of our freight railroad system. To a lot of people the freight railroads seem to be out of sight and out of mind…so too it seems on PBS.
    Outside of the NE section of the US Amtrak competes for space on the same rails as the frieght trains do. With the rapid increase in the use of Amtrak by US travelers, there is growing pressure on our existing rail network for more Amtrak use.
    What about a story of the increasing gridlock of our rail network system?

  • Cindy

    …Or better yet, a story about the gross inadequacy of our passenger rail system in comparison to the rest of the developed world, the criminal and intentional underfunding of Amtrak and other rail initiatives by the federal government, how improving our rail system can alleviate both air and traffic problems, and a good rail system is essential to our survival as a nation?

  • Thirteen/WNET » Watch 5 Reports on Infrastructure from NewsHour

    [...] to Sender: America’s Clogged Ports * Nowhere to Grow: Buckeye, AZ stresses the system * Flying Blind: America’s airports in need * Solutions: Update on Boston’s Big [...]

  • Ody Norkin

    Bob Previdi points is well taken – he says:
    “In the 8 largest northeast USA airports we could eliminate 15% of the flights that travel just between these airports”

    But this concept is valid nation-wide, not just the North East. One quick fix is to reduce all flights to/from major hubs that are on spokes of less than 100 miles. For example, flights between Toledo OH and Detroit – 52 miles, or Flint, Michigan and Detroit DTW – 54 miles should be cut – outright. We are the only country in the world that would permit flights rather than a trains/motorcoach on such short trips. The FAA needs to wake up! Lets hope the new administration will lead on this important congestion issue.

  • Greg D

    I live and work in Westchester County, NY. I’m also a technology teacher (formerly industrial arts) I see the local transportation resources running at or near capacity. The train system in Westchester does a great job of linking the county with N.Y.C. However the rail system does not crisscross the county. If the separate rail lines in the county connected with each other I would be able to take the train to work. Unfortunately in Westchester taking the train to work equals going to the city and that it. A large part of the population in Westchester does not work in the city. It the separate rail lines linked up I would have no need for a car.

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