In 2017, when it took 43 days to fix a 92-foot section of Interstate 85 in Atlanta, that relatively short time frame during which the heavily traveled highway was closed was also considered impressive.
Both of these “achievements” have met a pretty low bar. Most of us of a certain age have lived for decades in a country that has lost the ability to do big things in anything remotely resembling a timely manner. We take for granted that if something as modest as widening a highway shoulder is underway, traffic will be disrupted for months, if not years.
It wasn’t always this way. Ground was broken for the Pentagon, (still) the world’s largest office building, two months before the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, and the first of its full complement of 40,000 workers began moving in only nine months later. Construction was completed in just 16 months. George Bergstrom’s brilliant architectural design made it possible to get from anywhere in the Pentagon to anywhere else in the building in just seven minutes.
The construction manager was Army Corps of Engineers Colonel Leslie Groves (played by Matt Damon in Oppenheimer). He did such a phenomenal job that President Roosevelt had him promoted to general and put him in charge of the largest scientific and engineering endeavor in history, the super-secret Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb. It took only three years to go from theoretical concept to the successful Trinity test detonation in the Jornada del Muerto (the aptly named “Dead Man’s Journey”) desert of New Mexico.
How low our expectations have since become.
We have been beaten down to such an extent that we are both impressed and astounded at what happened in Philadelphia. Today our modest expectations are such that we hail the temporary repair and reopening of a tiny, 104-foot section of highway as a dazzling achievement. That’s all you need to know about the state of affairs in America in the third decade of the 21st century. We have not only apparently lost the ability to do big things (see, for example, the Interstate Highway System and putting a man on the Moon in less than a decade), we have also lost the ability to tackle and complete more humble undertakings in anything remotely resembling a reasonable timeframe.
Let’s hope that the lessons learned from Josh Shapiro’s example spurs the 35,000 new infrastructure projects underway across the country, thanks to President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (enactment of which was itself a monumental accomplishment), to move forward intelligently and swiftly with more than all deliberate speed.
July 26, 2023