Getting there from here!

Throughout the history of mankind, people have always faced a great divide and responded by asking themselves, “How do we get there from here?”

Facing thousands of miles of forest, mountains, rivers and even desert separating America’s east coast from the west, pioneers responded first with covered wagons, then with railroads and finally with a system of interstate highways.

One hundred years ago, innovators faced the 50 miles that separated the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans across the Isthmus of Panama and responded with a canal that would transform global trade.

Fifty years ago, visionaries gazed at the moon in the night sky and again challenged themselves to figure out how we could get there from here.  They responded with engineering marvels of space exploration.

Today, we are faced with another divide – one of funding, where policy and political will rather than physical distance and geography separates us.

Historically, Congress has authorized transportation funding for six years at a time, recognizing that major infrastructure projects are long-term investments that can’t move forward without reliable funding streams. But, in recent years, Congress has succeeded in passing only two-year band-aid bills, shifting $52 billion from the General Fund to the Highway Trust Fund since 2008 to keep it from going insolvent.

The reason for this chronic shortfall is our nation’s singular reliance on the gas tax to pay for transportation needs, and its failure to keep up. The gas tax is not indexed to rise with inflation and our leaders have not summoned the political resolve to raise the tax in more than 20 years. And that’s just compounded by the growth in more fuel-efficient vehicles and those that don’t require gasoline at all.

Some, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Road & Transportation Builders Association argue for substantial increases in the gas tax. Others, like the conservative Heritage Action group, promote eliminating the federal gas tax altogether and letting states fund 100 percent of their transportation needs.

Clearly, a great divide. Like many divides, the failure to bridge this one is costly.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) grades America’s infrastructure a D+ and estimates that American families and businesses are losing an estimated $101 billion a year in wasted time and fuel.

That same report estimates that driving on roads in need of repair costs Florida motorists $2.5 billion a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs. That’s $181.43 per motorist. ASCE rates 259 Florida bridges as structurally deficient and 1,785 as functionally obsolete. It estimates that Florida schools have $8.9 billion in infrastructure funding needs.

We must reach across political and philosophical divides to find solutions and build a fragile but needed consensus. These solutions are likely to include:

Greater latitude for states and local governments to enter into public-private partnerships to speed infrastructure projects with private funding.

Greater use of toll roads and toll lanes. This means we must defeat misguided efforts to tie decision-makers’ hands, such as a proposed Florida Constitutional amendment to prohibit new toll roads or toll increases without voter approval.

Greater use of transponder technology, such as SunPass, which ensures that drivers pay for roads as they use them.

And a long-term transportation funding bill funded by a continued and increased federal gas tax — at least as a transitory source, possibly paired with incentives to spur more innovative, technology-reliant funding solutions.

As with other great divides, success comes when we refuse to accept failure as an option. We need our leaders in Washington to find their political determination and apply that kind of resolve to this problem, quickly.

 

Walter Elias Disney: Transportation Visionary and Urban Planner

“I don’t believe there’s a challenge anywhere in the world that’s more important to people everywhere than finding solutions to the problems of our cities. But where do we begin… how do we start answering this great challenge?” -Walt Disney

EPCOT, or the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, began as Walt Disney’s idea of creating a better city. A utopian environment enriched in education, and in expanding technology. A perfect city with dependable public transportation, a soaring civic center covered by an all-weather dome, and model factories concealed in green belts that were readily accessible to workers housed in idyllic suburban subdivisions nearby.

The idea of having a perfect city was one of Walt Disney’s last projects. Before his death, in late 1966, Walt had bought up thousands of acres in central Florida, for an East Coast Disneyland, Walt Disney World. But all this was leading up to Walt’s true vision, a city without dirt, without grime, an experimental prototype city.

This idea of a perfect environment actually formed in Walt’s mind way before the actual thought of EPCOT. Disneyland is a perfect example. Its 25 foot Earthen Berm protects it from the outside world. With clean streets, and walkways, Disneyland was Walt’s first idea to have a better city, not like the 1950’s Los Angeles where Walt worked and lived.

Plans for the Florida Project, “Project X,” were being designed in a special room at the Disney Studios. This “Florida Room” had high ceilings and padded walls for pinning up plans. This room is where master plans were created for EPCOT, as well as Walt Disney World.

“EPCOT,” is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. WED Designer Marvin Davis said Walt created the phrase, he thought it was just right.

Shortly before Walt’s death, he made a film showcasing this new city. Before the filming he gave his presentation to a few friends, and afterwards asked “does this sound like a city you’d want to live in?” In the final product the EPCOT movie was a model for solving “today’s city problems . . . through proper master planning.” The movie continued, although, the city on the film was just a set, with a series of maps and charts. With a strong rhetorical image of wholeness, harmony, safety, and underlying order.

Unfortunately the EPCOT Walt Disney envisioned was never created. Walt Disney died of lung cancer at the hospital across the street from his studio. Work on EPCOT continued with fresh intensity. Although, the team would have to rely on the past thoughts from Walt; before Walt would come into the Florida room 2-3 times a week, bringing fresh ideas, and new excitement to the bunch. Marvin Davis recalls how “he designed the whole traffic flow around EPCOT on a little napkin.”

Roy Disney, Walt’s brother, was troubled by the thought of building a city. What did a Movie Studio know about water lines, power cables, sewer systems, and municipal government? When Marvin Davis presented his plans to Roy, they met with a sad, simple, answer. “Marvin,” Roy Disney spoke, “Walt’s dead.” So was the city known as EPCOT. So, plans then were shifted, first, to a Disneyland East- Magic Kingdom Park- a taller, and bigger park. Then a series of hotels, located on the edge of the property, to keep out unwanted intrusions.

Even though Walt’s dream of an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow was never developed, a World’s Fair type EPCOT does now exist. Although, a city truly new and experimental was designed, and is located on the Disney World Property, Celebration Florida is where remnant of EPCOT now resides. One wonders, what if Walt lived longer, would there have been an EPCOT? This question is inevitably unanswerable.

Walt Disney’s Vision of an EPCOT